MLB Wild Card: Phillies win again to gain ground in NL playoff race

·5 min read

Since June 1, Phillies have played like a team on a mission to end playoff drought originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Rob Thomson, who has become a National League manager of the year candidate right before our eyes, offered some perspective on the Phillies' 10-year playoff absence the other day.

He pointed out that the drought does not belong to everyone in the clubhouse, that some guys just haven't been here that long, and they need to focus on what's ahead and not what's behind.

Then Thomson said, "But I've been here five years and haven't been to the playoffs, so it bothers me."

Thomson was a playoff regular during his time on the New York Yankees' coaching staff.

He wants to get back there this year.

"It's important," he said. "It's important to ownership, the organization, the city of Philadelphia. It means a lot."

The front office confirmed the importance when it went out and acquired four players (Edmundo Sosa, Brandon Marsh, David Robertson and Noah Syndergaard) and took on payroll before Tuesday's trade deadline.

And the team is confirming the importance with its play.

The Phillies continued their midsummer romp with an 11-5 shellacking of the hapless Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night. The Phils powered their way to a 9-0 lead after two innings. The win was their 10th in the last 12 games. They are a season-high 11 games over .500 and are 38-19 since June 1. Thirty-seven of those wins have come with Thomson in the cockpit.

Since June 1, the Phillies' starting rotation has a 3.51 ERA, the bullpen has a 3.91 ERA, and the offense has a .752 OPS (seventh best in the majors) and .439 slugging percentage (fifth best in the majors) while scoring 4.89 runs per game.

The Phils have beaten Washington three straight nights and the offense and starting pitching have been outstanding the last two.

The Phils hit five home runs -- three in the first inning -- and got eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball from Kyle Gibson in Friday night's 7-2 win.

On Saturday night, they came out with two more home runs in the first inning and finished the night with three. The Phils put six runs on the board against Washington starter Patrick Corbin and he didn't make it out of the first inning.

Before the game, the Phillies honored outfielder Bake McBride and relief pitcher Ron Reed with spots on the team's Wall of Fame. After the ceremony, Reed pointed out that both of the franchise's World Series title teams had Notre Dame grads on their roster: himself in 1980 and Brad Lidge in 2008. Moments later, Matt Vierling clubbed a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning. Vierling is a Notre Dame grad.

No one is predicting World Series for this team, but it does feel like something rather special is beginning to percolate here.

Simply making the postseason would be special. The Phils control the third and final NL wild-card spot and the second one is within reach.

A year ago at this time, the Phillies were winning eight in a row and taking over first place in the NL East. Their hold on that spot did not last long. They lost 11 of their next 15 and finished out of the money for a 10th straight season.

Things feel different this time around.

"We're playing better baseball for longer stretches," J.T. Realmuto said. "We have a couple bad games and lose two or three where in the past we'd go on six- or seven-game losing streaks. We're playing better baseball, and we've been saying it all along -- we feel like our best baseball is ahead of us. We're going to get an MVP (Bryce Harper) back soon and that's going to help us a lot. We feel like we're moving in the right direction."

The bullpen is a big reason for that. It was historically bad, first with a 7.06 ERA and then with 34 blown saves, in 2020 and 2021. It's not an exaggeration to say the bullpen kept the Phillies from making the postseason the last two seasons.

This year, it feels different.

"We've got a good club and our bullpen has really performed," Thomson said. "That was one of the things that we didn't have in the past. We had a lot of letdowns because of our bullpen. But our bullpen has been really good and it has been really good for a while now. I have confidence in that. We're winning games at the end of games that in the past we've lost. We've got a good vibe on this club. We've got good players, they grind every day. I have complete confidence in them.

"I think when you have a bullpen that's performing the way ours is, you always feel like you are either going to win the game or get back in the game. They're going to hold it even if you get down. So it gives you an opportunity on both sides, when you have a lead or are down, to win the game."

The bullpen hasn't been tested in this series against Washington. The Phils won a rain-shortened game Thursday night. Gibson and the offense dominated Friday night. Ranger Suarez and the offense delivered Saturday night.

Rhys Hoskins has homered in the first inning three nights in a row. Realmuto has tripled and homered two nights in a row. Nick Castellanos has five RBIs in the last four games.

The Nationals have sold off talent two years in a row and are a shell of the team that won the World Series in 2019. The Phillies are doing just what a good team needs to do against a down-and-out club. They have beaten the Nationals in nine of 11 meetings this season. Sunday brings another one. The Phillies need to keep winning because, as Thomson said, making the playoffs is important and every last win will mean something.