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How the Phillies got to the NLDS to face the Braves

This year’s Phillies are kind of the mini-Braves, and both teams got to this showdown in similar fashion

Wild Card Series - Philadelphia Phillies v St. Louis Cardinals - Game Two Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images

While the Phillies are my personal most-hated baseball rival, this year has been a bit of an odd one as far as rooting against them. Why? Because rooting against the Phillies, in some ways, is like rooting against the Braves. While the Braves finished the regular-season marathon as the NL’s two seed, and the Phillies could barely manage a six seed placement, the point still stands — the Phillies are, in many respects, the mini-Braves.

As far as the offense goes, the Braves finished with a 111 wRC+, with the league’s second-highest ISO, a paltry walk rate (24th in MLB), and a lot of strikeouts (third in MLB). The Phillies, meanwhile, finished three “ranks” behind the Braves (i.e., 10th to the Braves’ seventh) with a 106 wRC+, the league’s seventh-highest ISO, 21st in walk rate, and 18th in strikeout rate. Basically, they make more contact than the Braves, and have less pop. Where the Braves are in the top 1-3 in most of the quality of contact measures, the Phillies are ranked somewhere in the 6-8 range.

The Braves’ big team drawback is their team defense — they finished the season 11th in defensive value, which is far from bad, but isn’t good, either. The Phillies, meanwhile, finished third-to-last in MLB in defensive value, which was probably not that hard to predict given that both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos played the outfield for them a bunch. (Also, Rhys Hoskins has been bad at first base, which seems tough to do.)

The two pitching staffs, meanwhile, finished within 0.1 fWAR of each other. (The Braves on top, of course.) I love making fun of the Phillies bullpen, but it was more than fine this year, finishing ninth in fWAR to the Braves’ second-place mark.

The only place where the Phillies aren’t the mini-Braves in terms of production is in the rotation, where the Braves’ finished seventh, but the Phillies finished second. Really, what the Braves lack here is an Aaron Nola — who finished first overall in MLB in fWAR for 2022 — beyond that they match up fine, but the Phillies aren’t the laggards in this one measure.

In any case, you know the Braves’ story: a slow start for two months, and then a breakneck pace that eventually led to a division crown. The Phillies’ story? A slow start for two months, and then a breakneck pace... not for the whole rest of the year, but for the next three months, before stumbling in September.

Seriously, check this out:

  • Through May: Braves 23-27; Phillies 21-29
  • June: Braves 21-6; Phillies 19-8
  • July: Braves 18-8; Phillies 15-10
  • August: Braves 18-10; Phillies 18-11

The Braves were better, but the Phillies were great. They were fourth in wins during the summer months, just a few behind the Braves (and the Dodgers, and the Astros). They finally got into playoff position on July 5, held that for six days, got back there on July 17, lost it after six more days, tied for it a few days later, and look, I’m not going to type the rest of it out, but you get the idea. When the Cardinals overtook the Brewers in the NL Central, the Phillies’ main race for the six seed was against the Milwaukee crew, creating a muddle with these two teams and the Padres for the final two NL playoff spots. The Phillies held either the five or six seed for nearly all of August, but then September came.

The final month was all about streaks for the Phightins. They started it by getting swept in San Francisco, then reeled off a 7-1 stretch, including a five-game winning streak, but then promptly lost five in a row. Then it was a three-game winning streak, another five-game losing streak, and they had one more three-game winning streak in them before the season was done. That late-season skid made their season more adventurous than it needed to be: as late as October 1, they had just a one-game lead on the Brewers. But, the latter ultimately faltered, and the Phillies made it to the postseason. As a result, their roller-coaster looked like this:

It took them two months of good play to make up for two months of bad play, and then the Brewers fading late to protect them from their own September skid.

Oh, and then they got into the NLDS, and used Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, a meltdown by Ryan Helsley, and other stuff to win two in a row in St. Louis.

On Tuesday afternoon, they’ll try to keep their season rolling for a bit longer against the Braves, a team they’ve been pretty similar to. So, given all that, it’s hard to hate these Phillies too much. They’re just a worse version of what the Braves did most of the season. That doesn’t mean they’ll come out on the losing end of a five-game series; nothing ever guarantees doom or salvation in a baseball series that short. But it will make it harder to resent them if they do come out on top, because if they do, it’ll probably be in the same manner the Braves would’ve prevailed, had that come to pass.

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