The defending National League champions are returning to the postseason. The Philadelphia Phillies clinched a postseason berth with Tuesday night's extra-inning win over the Pittsburgh Pirates (PHI 3, PIT 2). The Phillies are heading back to October as the National League's top wild-card team. They were locked into the No. 4 seed with the Cubs' loss on Tuesday against the Braves and will host the second wild-card team (NL's No. 5 seed) at Citizens Bank Park in the Wild Card Series next week.
Four of the six NL postseason spots have now been claimed. The Atlanta Braves (NL East) and Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West) have won their divisions and clinched a Wild Card Series bye. The Milwaukee Brewers have clinched a postseason berth and will clinch the NL Central title with their next win or the next Chicago Cubs loss. The Phillies have the top wild-card spot. Here's the bracket:
- BYE: Braves and Dodgers
- WC1: TBD (third wild-card team) at Brewers
- WC2: TBD (second wild-card team) at Phillies
The Phillies clinched this berth on rookie John Rojas' walk-off single in the 10th.
This is Philadelphia's second straight postseason berth after a 10-year drought, which was the longest in the National League prior to last season. They won 87 games and made the postseason as the third wild-card team last year, then advanced all the way to the World Series, where they lost in six games to the Houston Astros. It was Philadelphia's third pennant in 15 years.
Similar to last season, the Phillies started slowly this year before really catching fire at midseason. They bottomed out at seven games under .500 on June 2 (25-32). Since then, the Phillies are 63-37 and have baseball's second-best record, behind only the NL East rival Braves (67-32). They're one of only seven teams with a winning record against clubs that are .500 or better this year.
The Phillies are a unique team in that they seem to be built better for a short postseason series than the long 162-game season. Their lineup is loaded with power, Kyle Schwarber, the Phillies have plus hit tool guys who can hang in against top tier pitching., and other than
Trea Turner's recent revival gives them even more offensive might:
The Phillies have been without Rhys Hoskins all season because of his spring training knee injury. Bryce Harper has taken over as the most-of-the-time first baseman lately, allowing Schwarber to slot in at DH. That frees up an outfield spot for Cristian Pache or Johan Rojas each day. A Pache-Rojas-Brandon Marsh outfield at the end of close games is as good as it gets defensively.
Also, Philadelphia has six legitimate MLB starters -- Michael Lorenzen, Aaron Nola, Cristopher Sánchez, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker, Zack Wheeler -- and only Wheeler is a lock for the postseason rotation. Nola likely is as well despite his down season (also his free agent season), though the Phillies have alternatives should they want to go a different route.
If there is one question about the Phillies, it's the ninth inning. Craig Kimbrel was an All-Star this season, but he's walked a tightrope the last few weeks (he gave up a game-tying home run in the eighth inning on Tuesday), and is no longer the lockdown closer he was throughout his career. Manager Rob Thomson has late-inning options in José Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman, Gregory Soto, and maybe even rookie Orion Kerkering.
A year ago the Phillies made a surprise run to the World Series and fell two wins short of a championship. They were an underdog, truly. That won't be the case this postseason. You don't make a run like that and then sign Turner only to sneak up on people. The Phillies have power in the lineup and a deeper pitching staff than a year ago. They're set up well for October.