The Philadelphia Phillies are cruising. Winners of their last eight contests, the Phillies have rocketed to the top of the National League East, holding a two-game lead on the Atlanta Braves and a 2.5-game lead on the New York Mets.
There’s only one feasible road to the playoffs for a National League East team this season, and that’s winning the division. Both Wild Card seeds are a long shot given the trio of powerhouses out west (San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres) and the Cincinnati Reds playing well in the central.
Here are three reasons for the urgency behind the Phillies needing to seize the opportunity at hand.
The state of the NL East works in the Philadelphia Phillies’ favor
The NL East has been bizarre this season. All five teams entered the 2021 MLB season with a roadmap to win the division. Four of the five teams have experienced one of the more puzzling seasons for their respective franchise in recent memory.
The Braves have hovered around .500 for the bulk of the regular season and lost/been without key figures due to injuries (Ronald Acuna Jr. and Huascar Ynoa) and injury setbacks (Mike Soroka). Their rotation has been a mess, the offense has under performed given its recent standards and the bullpen remains a loose cannon.
The Mets have led the division for most of the year but faltered over the last two weeks. Their offense is anemic, the bullpen has struggled and Jacob deGrom hasn’t taken the hill since July 7. A month ago, this looked like the Mets’ division to lose, and now they’re in third place.
The Marlins have struggled from the jump and were recently sellers at the MLB trade deadline, moving Starling Marte, Adam Duvall, Yimi Garcia and John Curtiss. Meanwhile, the Nationals embarked on a mammoth fire sale after a seesaw four months of play. Washington traded away Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, Daniel Hudson, Josh Harrison, Brad Hand and Jon Lester.
How do the Phillies not win the division?
The Philadelphia Phillies were established to contend
Manager Joe Girardi has All-Star talent across the board.
Offensively, this is one of the most-talented teams in the sport. Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm are considerable threats in the batter’s box and field their positions well.
On the hill, Zack Wheeler has become one of the elite starting pitchers in baseball. Aaron Nola is a capable ace. Midseason pickup Kyle Gibson is a sly right-hander who’s pitching the best baseball of his MLB career. Zach Eflin is a steady starter. Philadelphia’s issue has been their guessing game of a bullpen and offensive inconsistency. Well, two months of well-rounded play gives them the chance to offset their shortcomings of recent memory.
Two and a half years ago, Harper, Realmuto and McCutchen were brought in to significantly improve the Phillies’ standing in the NL East. The ensuing offseason, Wheeler and Gregorius were brought in to further that effort. Neither offseason produced a playoff berth.
For the first time in three years, the Phillies have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs in a traditional modern-day format. This is what this team was established to do and why they re-signed Realmuto and Gregorius this past offseason and further pushed the payroll envelope by adding Gibson. This has been a playoff team talent-wise for three years.
What do the Phillies do if they miss the playoffs — again?
Yes, it’s somewhat ridiculous that the Phillies are now taking advantage of the state of their divisional foes and simply playing above .500 baseball. Better late than never, though.
Now, just because the Phillies are playing well and are in first place in the NL East doesn’t mean they’re a shoo-in to run away with the division. The Braves traded for five bats last month (Stephen Vogt, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario) and are playing better of late.
Plus, the Mets surely won’t go down without a fight, as they, like the Phillies, have a talented roster that has chronically underachieved. Who’s to say the Mets can’t do what the Phillies have done over the last week at some point in September?
Every team in the NL East but the Phillies has disappointed or had something damaging happen to their roster. They have no excuses. This is their chance to rectify the past. There’s also the element of what happens if they blow this opportunity? Well, it only gets more difficult.
The Braves and Mets will get healthier while the Nationals attempt to retool with a bevy of young talent and the Marlins continue to lean on a deep pitching staff. Philadelphia is mostly a team of players in their prime. Winning the division gets them to a best-of-five series, where anything can happen. The root elements of this roster will be the same for next season, as the Phillies are financially invested in this group for the long haul.
There will never be a more optimum chance for the Phillies to capture the NL East than over the next two months. There’s only so much a front office can do for a ball club. The talent is there for the Phillies. Now the execution has to match the talent.