A Look Back: How the Phillies found their way to the World Series

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Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper celebrates with the trophy after winning the baseball NL Championship Series in Game 5 against the San Diego Padres on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The 2022 Philadelphia Phillies will go down as one of the best clubs in franchise history. A team full of energic, fun, and lovable players has given Phillies fans a ride of a lifetime. The Fightins have found their way into the Fall Classic and will go toe to toe with the Houston Astros, a club looking to cement their legacy with one of the best runs by a professional sports organization in the 21st century.

The Houston Astros were expected to be playing games late into October. A club that has now won 4 American League pennants in the last six years looks stronger than ever as they have cruised to the World Series.

The Phillies, however, are just happy to be here. A team that faced adversity like no other now has a chance to bring home the greatest prize in all of baseball.

The 2022 World Series will be a David vs. Goliath story, the overwhelmingly favorite Astros will look to squash the mighty underdogs from Philadelphia. But before we get into what will be the biggest series the Phillies have had since 2009, let’s remember how we got to this moment.

Off-Season Work

There was a strong buzz surrounding the Phillies heading into Spring Training. After a disappointing end to their 2021 campaign, the Phillies had some momentum to build off of. It was the club’s first winning season since 2011, and the next logical step was to make the playoffs.

After watching an 88-win Atlanta Braves go on a miracle run for the World Series, it was time for the Phillies to go all in. Owner John Middleton entrusted President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski to spend money in the off-season and even allowed him to exceed the luxury tax.

Dombrowski would start slow and upgrade the club’s depth. He traded for veteran reliever Nick Nelson from the Yankees and acquired backup catcher Garrett Stubbs from the Houston Astros. Shortly thereafter, Dave would sign reliever Andrew Bellatti to a minor league contract. In November, three players who have significantly impacted this year’s club were added under the radar.

Once the lockout ended in March, Dave was prepared to go to work. The team signed Brad Hand, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos, three huge additions to the club. With a powerful lineup and improvements made to the bullpen, there was some buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies.

Phillies Spring Training Aspirations

Every season, teams feel confident about their chances in Spring Training. Clubs feel good about the roster they just spent months assembling, and fans look forward to seeing new additions or young prospects getting a chance to play.

Fans flocked to Spring Training for the Phillies to see the newest pieces to the puzzle. Merchandise sales were through the roof, as fans bought Castellanos and Schwarber jerseys like candy. The fans were ready to go all in, and there was a new mentality in the Phillies clubhouse. Bryce Harper was coming off his MVP season in 2021, and the Phillies looked to be healthy going into the season.

While most fans were just looking for a trip to the playoffs, there were many who claimed this club would go to the World Series. Little did they know those predictions and endorsements would come to fruition.

Coming out Cold

Much like the weather, the Phillies started their season off cold. After a promising series win over the Oakland Athletics, the Fightins would start to stumble. They came up short in series after series against their division rival New York Mets, and the season had started to slip away just as quickly as it began.

Frustrations were boiling over, and fans were once again beginning to doubt the team’s capabilities. Attendance began to fall, and more and more empty seats were filling the screen as fans watched from the comforts of their own home.

Manager Joe Girardi became public enemy number one, and fans called for Joe to go. Growing sentiment around the town was that they had no chance of making the playoffs if Girardi managed this club. The final blow for the Phillies skipper was against the San Francisco Giants.

The Phillies dropped two of three to their former manager Gabe Kapler, who was coming off an NL West division title and a 107-win season with the Giants. It was time for the Phillies to make a move, and Dave Dombrowski did not hesitate.

Topper to the Rescue

Dave Dombrowski made the call to make a change at manager. Girardi was out, and bench coach Rob Thomson would accept the role of interim manager. Many fans, including myself, wanted Dusty Wathan to be the new skipper in town, but as hindsight would show, Dave made the right move.

A baseball lifer, the only role Rob Thomson had yet to accomplish in Major League Baseball was to become the manager of a big league club. Thomson would get a chance to take over for his longtime colleague and friend but, finally, get to add his own twist to this team.

The players all supported the move and were happy for Rob to get the chance to turn around their season. The most important part of the switch was that the players believed in Topper and from that moment, it was go-time.

The Phillies sat with a 22-29 record but, like the Braves and Nationals in recent years, had plenty of time to right the ship. The Phillies did not waste time, and Rob Thomson would go on to win his first 8 games as manager of the Fightins. Times were changing in South Philly, and the spark of hope had returned to Citizens Bank Park.

Phillies Quickly Became the Hottest Team in Baseball

As Jack Fritz loves to say, “Who let the Phillies get hot?”

The Rob Thomson Phillies were on fire, and everyone on the team contributed. Kyle Schwarber’s month of June catapulted the club back into the playoff hunt, and the reigning MVP was finding his stroke after the arm injury that disrupted the start of his season.

The Phillies were also starting to get the most out of their young players. Bryson Stott was getting a chance to play every day, allowing his game to grow gradually. Alec Bohm began to make huge strides defensively at third base, and the offensive toolbox that followed him throughout the minors returned in year 3.

The bullpen also had finally shown signs of life. The Phillies made changes and began to cut dead weight. They did not hesitate to upgrade on certain positions, and Thomson changed the entire structure of the ‘pen. Guys like James Norwood and Jeurys Familia were let go, Jose Alvarado was sent to Triple-A, and Corey Knebel lost his job as the closer for the Phillies. Changes were made, and the Phillies bullpen began to flourish.

Overcoming the Odds, Again

Over the course of a 162-game season, there are bound to be injuries and hurdles a team has to overcome. It is never easy and especially if you are the Phillies.

MVP Bryce Harper and second basemen Jean Segura would go out for an extended period due to finger injuries, leaving the Phillies without two of their top hitters. During separate stretches, injuries to starters Zach Eflin, Ranger Suarez, Zack Wheeler, and closer Seranthony Dominguez left the Phillies’ pitching staff depleted. Rob Thomson had to get creative, and the addition of Noah Syndergaard and the rise of Bailey Falter helped patch some wins together.

The Phillies once again turned to the youth movement to try and pick them up. This time they would add some new recruits. Darick Hall, Nick Maton, Brandon Marsh, Bailey Falter, and many more would rise to the occasion.

September Surprises

As September rolled around, the Phillies finally started to get healthy. Their best players were back on the field and the team had a lead in the Wild Card over the Padres and Brewers. The Phillies were finally going back to the playoffs and they just needed to scrap together a good September.

In typical Phillies fashion, they had to make things interesting. A collapse in September once again ensued, and the Phillies’ lead over the Padres was gone. They remained ahead of Milwaukee, but as the team continued to lose games, their lead got tighter and tighter.

Interim Manager Rob Thomson never waived his faith, however, and held this team together, much like he did all season. Topper never broke his calm demeanor, and he did not let adversity strike fear in his clubhouse.

With three games to go in the regular season, Aaron Nola would deliver his performance as a Phillie and send the club to the postseason for the first time since 2011. For many, they expected this to be the end of what was a rollercoaster journey. Once again, the Phillies had other plans and in the words of Bryce Harper “we aren’t losing.”

Team of Destiny

There is no way that the 6th seeded Phillies could go to St. Louis and upset Albert Pujols and the 3rd-seeded Cardinals. There is no way that the 6th seeded Phillies could beat a hundred-win and reigning World Series Braves club. There is no way that the 6th-seeded Phillies could beat a Padres team with Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Josh Hader.

When there is a will, there is a way. The Phillies stepped into the playoffs for the first time in eleven seasons and have not wasted the opportunity. Most fans were just happy to make the playoffs, some fans thirsted for a home playoff series, and some fans had the foresight to think bigger.

The team has come through with clutch hitting, solid defense (at times), and dynamic pitching. Everyone who has stepped foot on the field this post-season has contributed to the run the Phillies are on. The Phillies as a whole seem like a group that cares about one another, and their post-game celebrations have ingited a non-stop party in South Philly.

Whether or not the Phillies win the World Series (and I think they can), this team will forever go down with one of the greatest runs in the history of Philly sports. The Phillies are no longer dancing on their own, and the fans will be with them every step of the way.

Phillies baseball is back and it is time to bring home the World Series trophy.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum