Following their strong August performance, the Phillies stand poised to make a run at their first NL East title since 2011 in our simulated 2020 season. Using Out of the Park Baseball 21, we take a look to see if the Phillies can remain hot going into the month of September.
The September Playoff Race
In lieu of going game-by-game through September, we’re going to go week-by-week, telling the tale of the playoff race.
Philadelphia began the month of September with two series victories versus the Nationals and Mets. The Phillies were looking to finish their sweep of the Nationals on 9/3 but were halted by the Nats’ offense. The Phillies then won three of four against the Mets, having only lost a 2-1 game in 10 innings. Through 9/7, the Phillies held a strong 29-13 record and a 7.5 game lead over the Nationals for the division. Washington, 22-21, was right in the middle of the NL Wild Card race, with a one-game lead over the San Diego Padres for the second Wild Card slot. The Braves and Mets were 2 and 3.5 games back, respectively. In all, 11 teams were within four games of a Wild Card slot with only the San Francisco Giants being out of contention at 13-29.
Philadelphia wrapped up its 20 games in 20 days stretch from going 3-3 and splitting a two-game series with Boston and a four-game set with Miami. Following the Phillies’ off-day on 9/14, they maintained a seven-game lead over the rest of the NL East, with the Braves having usurped the Nationals for second place. At 32-16, the Phillies’ magic number stood at six, and the clubhouse manager was spotted preparing his champagne order for the clubhouse for the first time since 2011. The Reds and Braves held the Wild Card spots, with the Padres and Nationals in hot pursuit one game back. Meanwhile, in the NL East, the Los Angeles Dodgers were the first time to win their division, holding a 36-12 record and a 12-game lead over the Padres.
The Phillies wrapped up at home on 9/20 following three home games versus the Mets and three against the Blue Jays. After winning both series 2-1, the Phillies’ magic number dropped to one. At 36-18, the Phillies owned a 6.5 game lead over both the Braves and Nationals (who are tied for the second Wild Card slot). Though they traveled into two cities very much in playoff contention to end the season, the Phillies’ magic number of one boded well for their NL East bid.
NL East Champs
After eight long years of watching the competition take the NL East pennant, the Phillies finally were a win away from taking the division as their own once more. They would not need to wait long. On 9/21, opening their final three-game set against the Nationals, the Phillies battled their way back to the title. Vince Velazquez outpitched Patrick Corbin as the Phillies snagged a 5-3 victory. J.T. “Pls Pay Him” Realmuto went 3-for-4 with a home run, two runs scored, and two RBI’s to outscore Washington. At 37-18, the Phillies clinched the NL East, as well as the ability to take a breather in their final five games.
After winning the series against Washington 2-1, the Phillies went into Tampa Bay knowing fully well that the Rays were desperate to claim a Wild Card slot. The Rays managed to take two of three against the Phillies, forcing a tiebreaker game for the second AL Wild Card Spot. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox faced a tiebreaker to determine who would win the AL East and who would be a Wild Card team. Overall, four tiebreaker games occurred on 9/28, with the Twins and White Sox faced off for the AL Central and the Padres and Reds facing off for the second NL Wild Card slot.
The Playoff Picture
With a 39-21 record, the Phillies own the third-best record in baseball behind the Dodgers and Astros. Following the four tiebreaker games, the playoff picture settled as follows:
|American League||Title||Record||National League||Title||Record|
|Houston Astros||AL West||41-19||Los Angeles Dodgers||NL West||42-18|
|New York Yankees*||NL East||36-25||Philadelphia Phillies||NL East||39-21|
|Minnesota Twins*||AL Central||33-28||St. Louis Cardinals||NL Central||36-24|
|Boston Red Sox*||Wild Card I||35-26||Atlanta Braves||Wild Card I||34-26|
|Los Angeles Angels*||Wild Card II||34-27||Cincinnati Reds*||Wild Card II||34-27|
The victor of the Reds-Braves playoff match will be set to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. Meanwhile, as if by act of providence, the Phillies will face the St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Phillies in the 2011 NLDS.
In the AL, the Angels and Red Sox will battle to face the Astros, while the Twins and Yankees will face off in the ALDS.
Wear and Tear
The Phillies may have won the division, but the final week of the season was not kind to the Phillies. On 9/23, both Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper fell to injuries. Hoskins strained his hamstring while Harper had a herniated disc in his neck. Both injuries will take at least four weeks to heal, jeopardizing their hopes to play in the playoffs. 2020 was by all accounts a year Hoskins will forget, as he finished with only six home runs and .201 batting average. Harper, meanwhile, contributed a bit more with nine home runs and an .832 OPS.
A few days later, on 9/26, Spencer Howard came down with a sore elbow. His injury is less serious as he should be ready after the Wild Card Game. Howard was called up on 8/31 in the simulation, and he did not look back. Through six games, Howard had allowed five earned runs in 40 innings pitched. Howard pitched six-plus innings in each game he pitched and threw for 38 strikeouts.
Phillies Top Performers
Howard’s September performance has been a light in an otherwise dreary pitching rotation for the Phillies. His 1.10 ERA would have risen over the course of the season, but he would have certainly led the staff as Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler had respective 4.50 and 4.84 ERAs.
Hector Neris, however, has led a Phillies’ bullpen that has improved. Neris earned 14 saves in 24.1 IP while striking out 39. Neris only blew one save, and owns a 1-3 record in non-save scenarios. Jose Alvarez and Victor Arano have been reliable workhorses as well. The two combined for 42 IP with 10 earned runs between them and 50 strikeouts between them.
Realmuto, Didi Gregorious, Andrew McCutchen, and Jean Segura have led as the core of the Phillie’s offense in the regular season. Each of them have hitfor at least ten home runs, with McCutchen leading the team with 19 (third in the league). Segura, meanwhile, led the league with a .353 batting average. The four hitters have found themselves in the two through five slots in the order, deservingly so with respective OPS’s above .950 each.
The last time the Phillies played the Cardinals in the ALDS, Roy Halladay faced off against good friend Chris Carpenter in a pivotal moment in his career and Ryan Howard tore his ACL. The Phillies plan on pitching Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Jake Arrieta against the Cardinals, with Spencer Howard possibly earning a start when he recovers.
|Nick Maton (DH)||.247/.680||0|
|Jean Segura (3B)||.353/.952||10|
|Andrew McCutchen (LF)||.274/.951||19|
|Didi Gregorious (SS)||.319/.969||17|
|J.T. Realmuto (C)||.301/.956||14|
|Neil Walker (1B)||.204/.608||2|
|Nick Williams (RF)||.304/.855||1|
|Scott Kingery (2B)||.216/.637||6|
|Roman Quinn (CF)||.265/.759||4|
The Phillies’ DH slot has been a revolving door since the Phillies released Jay Bruce in the August simulation. Following the injuries to Hoskins and Harper, Neil Walker and Nick Williams stepped up to take over their respective positions. In real life, Walker has made the Phillies’ Opening Day roster. Williams was once thought to be the Phillies’ future right fielder, but his performance collapsed under Gabe Kapler’s leadership. Perhaps Joe Girardi can fix what Kapler seemingly broke.
Over this week, as we prepare for Opening Day on Friday against the Marlins, stay tuned for our simulated playoff run. We will go round-by-round until either the Phillies make the World Series or are eliminated.
Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports