The Philadelphia Phillies and Bryce Harper are bringing back baseball. Why this team and Citizens Bank Park has been by far the best watch in the MLB playoffs.
The Phillies Are Rockstars
Around one year ago today, baseball fans in America watched in awe as Bryce Harper hit home run after home run en route to taking the Phillies to their first World Series since 2009. After signing a massive thirteen year, 330 million dollar deal with Philadelphia, Harper was finally silencing his doubters, hitting to a 1.160 OPS in the 2022 playoffs. For reference, this is higher than the generally great MVP season Aaron Judge had last year.
The Phillies had the worst record of all playoff teams last year, with just 88 wins. But they were still able to knock out the strong Cardinals, elite division rival Braves, and talented San Diego Padres before losing to the Astros in six games. It was a remarkable run, one that I personally really enjoyed and would have loved to see from my own team. Well, it is 2023 again, and the Phillies are back, doing the same thing but way better.
The Phillies just hit their way to a 10-0 victory over the Diamondbacks on Tuesday that gave them a commanding 2-0 lead in the NLCS. Bryce Harper is hitting better than he did last postseason, bringing energy to the stadium every single night. The lineup is raking, every pitcher they have seems to perform better in the postseason than the regular season, and their home ballpark is filled to the brim.
Having this kind of energy from a team in back to back postseasons is great for baseball, and it’s important to talk about why I believe the Phillies are bringing back the postseason.
The first thing that stands out about the Phillies is how they built their roster, and the perhaps untraditional way it has come together. While many teams now focus their roster around development and trades, the Phillies have mostly built their squad through free agency. Obviously the headliner is Bryce Harper, who signed the large contract I mentioned above and is the face of the franchise.
But more than that, they have signed a significant chunk of their lineup through free agency. Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos both came along two offseasons ago, signing 79 million and 100 million dollar deals respectively. Ace Zack Wheeler, who has been excellent in the postseason, signed a 5 year, 118 million dollar deal back in the winter of 2019.
They also have another 300 million dollar player in new shortstop Trea Turner, who hit a monster home run Tuesday night, and a 100 million dollar catcher in J.T Realmuto, who has been here since Wheeler was. They do have young players like Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott who were developed by the franchise, but they are less far along and there is no doubt the stars were signed in free agency.
Having this large a chunk of your players signed from other teams on expensive contracts is risky, as if it does not pay off you could be trapped. However, if it does pay off as it has for the Phillies, you have an extremely recognizable group that fans of other teams can relate to as they watch their former players win.
Red Sox fans see Schwarber playing excellently, Mets fans remember what it was like to watch Wheeler develop, and pretty much everyone remembers when Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 years old. The Phillies have players you recognize, and that makes them an extraordinarily fun team to root on.
A big explanation for the Phillies on-field success comes down to power. They have offensive players that hit the ball hard and often, and pitchers that punish opposing lineups with high velocity. In fact, they are setting records with their recent power surge.
They tied a postseason record for 6 home runs in a game against the Atlanta Braves in Game 3. They also set the record for home runs in a four game span with 14 between their last three games against the Braves and first against the Diamondbacks. Having pitchers that get a lot of strikeouts also covers up their sometimes lacking defense, translating to overall postseason success.
For example, a Trea Turner error in Game 2 quickly was cast aside as Aaron Nola struck out the next two batters, and Turner delivered on the other side with a long home run in the top of the first. Small ball can sound good to more traditional baseball fans, but home runs win in the playoffs.
The best thing to supplement a great team of course is having great fans, and the Phillies absolutely do that. Citizens Bank Park is an environment that you can feel through the screen when watching playoff games, as every home run is met with an explosion. Especially as we get later into the playoffs and there are no more day games, the energy is truly felt.
Northeast cities like Philadelphia are known for having the most passionate fans, and although that can mean booing when times are rough it means the loudest cheers when things are good. For example, Trea Turner was given a standing ovation by the Philadelphia fans on August 4th after a tough season, and has since turned it around, doubling his home run total and posting an OPS over 1.000 in the playoffs.
If you play with passion like these Phillies do, the fans will have your back.
I don’t know if the Phillies will hold up the World Series trophy, but they certainly could. They are out matching the Diamondbacks right now and will most likely make the World Series, but who knows what will happen with talented Rangers and Astros lineups awaiting them.
However, what I do know is that this team is putting energy into the playoffs, and I want to watch them play every single night. However their season ends, there is no sports story I am currently enjoying more than the Phillies.