Phillies hope crushing NLCS collapse won't lead to next generation of failure

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper said all the right things about how he could have done more to lead the Phillies back to the World Series. How he let the team down. The city down. Harper put on a brave front in the wake of a cutting defeat and noted ownership would spend and develop and keep the Phillies contenders for years to come.

“Just understand that we’ll be back,” Harper said.

Just understand this, though. The Philadelphia Phillies squandered a trip to the World Series with one of the more egregious collapses in the 141 years of the franchise.

Up 2-0 in the NL Championship Series.

Up 3-2 and back home for Game 6 with postseason standout Aaron Nola on the mound.

They blew it. It was the Arizona Diamondbacks that planted a flag in the Citizens Bank Park turf and knocked out Harper and a futile offense that produced no bang for their 241-million bucks.

The day after in Philly was grim. Turn on talk radio, scan social media, heck, even read a newspaper, and the Phillies were painted Wednesday as chokers. The truth, in this case, hurts.

What’s worse, the franchise has traditionally spiraled after agonizing defeats.

Consider 1964, when the Phillies lost 10 straight games to blow a 6 1/2-game lead and the NL pennant with 12 games left. They wouldn’t next make the playoffs until 1976. Take 1993, when Mitch Williams threw that final pitch of the World Series to Joe Carter for his infamous (in Philly) home run. The Phillies didn’t have a winning record again until 2001. Or 2011, when Ryan Howard crumpled to the ground on the final swing of an NL Division Series loss that served as a gnarly preview for a decade of bad baseball ahead.

This year’s Phillies insist more postseason appearances are ahead, that the Game 7 loss won’t serve as some sort of generational defeat like the others that will send them back into the baseball abyss.

Maybe so. The expanded playoffs make another run more palatable. The Phillies won 87 games last year to reach the World Series and the Diamondbacks just 84 this season to match up against Texas.

The Phillies can win another 80 to 90 games if the offense clicks and starts mashing home runs and spiking bats and spurring pandemonium from the home crowd.

It’s just, when the free-swinging Phillies go cold, look out. Sometimes a series is decided on the little plays. Maybe a stolen base. A bad decision by the manager (though Rob Thomson was guilty of a couple).

But the defining numbers were in black-and-white, right there in the box score.

Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Harper and Nick Castellanos went 5 for 53 (.094) with 11 walks, 22 strikeouts and two RBIs in Philadelphia’s four NLCS losses. Against six Arizona pitchers in Game 7, the four went 1 for 15 (.067) with five strikeouts and no RBIs.

Ouch.

“You work all year to get to these moments and these spots,” Harper said. “We weren’t able to close the door.”

But is it slammed shut on Philadelphia’s hopes to make another deep October run in 2024?

Here’s what’s next.

RHYS LIGHTNING

Was Game 7 the last call for Rhys Hoskins in a Phillies uniform?

Hoskins returned to the team for the finale after spending most of the postseason rehabbing in Florida for a last-gasp effort to play in the World Series. Hoskins missed the season with a torn left ACL suffered in spring training. The 30-year-old finished a $12 million, one-year contract and could move on should the Phillies decide Harper will stay at first base.

Hoskins was pretty much a well-paid observer this season. He was in full uniform on opening day and helped raise the Phillies NL championship banner and threw out the first pitch before Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series.

Hoskins hit 30 homers with 79 RBIs last season. Should Hoskins prove he’s healthy — he said there were still some “finishing touches” on his rehab — it should be easy to find a home for a right-handed hitter with pop. Perhaps, though, not in Philadelphia.

“I’m obviously the most bummed,” Hoskins said. “Everybody just wants to be part of something bigger than themselves, right? This team was clearly that. It’s a group of guys that I think were destined to be great. We were. We just came up short.”

NO NOLA?

The longest-tenured Phillie, Nola is among the top pitchers on the free-agent market.

Nola was fantastic, at times — a 3-0 start to the postseason with a 0.96 ERA. He was just as bewildering at others — he allowed two homers in a Game 6 loss and wasted a potential clinch.

Nola has five seasons of 200-plus strikeouts, five seasons of 30-plus starts, and a 90-71 career record. But his ERA was 4.46 ERA and the 30-year-old righty allowed a career-worst 32 home runs. Durable pitchers with big-game experience are hard to find, and there’s surely a contender out there willing to bust the bank to sign him.

Nola again said after Game 7 he hoped to return to Philadelphia.

UNHAPPY WALKER?

Here’s the final tally on the first season of pitcher Taijuan Walker’s $72 million, four-year contract: 15 wins, no postseason appearances.

Walker cooled considerably down the stretch and did not impress in a simulated game ahead of Game 4 of the NLCS. The Phillies started Cristopher Sánchez — on 20 days rest — instead of Walker or Michael Lorenzen.

Thomson said Walker was on the postseason roster to provide depth should the Phillies have needed him in an extra-inning game.

After Game 7, Walker wrote on social media, “ Disrespect is at an all time high #nextyear.”

Was he referencing Arizona outfielder Alek Thomas planting a flag with the team’s logo on the field? Doubtful. Walker liked a few posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, that noted his absence was a sign of disrespect.

FREE AGENTS

The Phillies could have the bulk of the team back with only Lorenzen, who was never the same after throwing a no-hitter in August, and All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel joining Nola and Hoskins as notable free agents.

Kimbrel got $10 million for his one season in Philly.

He also earned a spot in Philly sports infamy for his epic failures in Games 3 and 4 of the NLCS. The veteran reliever with 417 career saves took the losses in both games. He gave up a game-winning RBI single to Ketel Marte in Game 3 and squandered a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning of Game 4. Kimbrel and his light show entrance will likely not return.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb