Yesterday, the Eagles were thoroughly outclassed by the Buccaneers in their playoff loss that sent Philadelphia home for the winter. Heading into Tampa Bay yesterday, the Eagles were coming off a loss at home to Dallas in which they gave up 50 points, but didn’t really mean much because they were playing the backups to the backups. Once the lights came on for a real game in the wild card round, the Eagles were quickly dismantled by the world champions and will now have to spend the offseason wondering this same refrain:
Was it worth it getting into the playoffs just to be dismantled by a superior team?
After a loss to the Chargers that left them 3-6 and rudderless, the team rattled off wins in 6 of their final 8 games to get into the playoffs as the #7 seed, the final rung of the playoff ladder. Being at the bottom though, they were going to be forced to play the #2 seed, which in this case happened to be the team more recently able to raise the Lombardi trophy.
The team that they were facing was going to be without several of their key players, sure, but they were still more talented, better coached and just happened to have the best quarterback that has ever step foot on a football field. It was a steep hill to climb, a bridge too far. The lack of talent showed up in spades and the Eagles were sent off the field with abundantly more questions than they had coming onto it at 1:00 yesterday afternoon.
So again, we ask: was it worth it? Making the playoffs is always the goal, but when you’re forced to sneak in as a wild card team and are forced to face conference behemoth, is it really worth it do so if you’re simply going to get your butt kicked in?
While they are two different sports with two different paths to contention, to me, this only validates the Phillies’ reluctance to go make trades that would have gutted their farm system in order to make something as trivial as a one-game playoff these past few years. One of their best shots came in Gabe Kapler’s first season with the team. In July 2019, with the team in first place but needing reinforcements, Andy MacPhail discussed how the team wasn’t really ready to contend, that spending money was preferable to spending prospects.
“If you’re a team like we are now, we’re in the postseason if the season ended today. But what if we’re in a one-game playoff? From my perspective, you have to be a bit more judicious with your playing talent if you think you have a longer haul to get to the postseason...It has to make sense. I think, from my standpoint, I am going to be more judicious; we win seven in a row on this homestand, I might feel differently...But given our current circumstances, I think I’m going to be a little judicious and careful about what talent is walking out the door.”
Turns out, MacPhail was right.
Had the Phillies won the wild card game and made the next round that year, they likely would have faced the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs, a roster that at the time was a 106 win juggernaut. These were the same Dodgers that had a healthy Clayton Kershaw, Hyun Jin-Ryu and Walker Buehler in a three game series on the mound, and a lineup that was anchored by the year’s MVP, Cody Bellinger. Hell, even making the wild card would have meant they were going to face the Brewers and Brandon Woodruff, or the Nationals and Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg. What team would want to go into a dice roll game like the wild card game and taken their chance with either one of those teams? What team would want to possibly go into a three game series against one of the better teams of the last 25 years? Not the Phillies, that’s for sure.
Instead, as we know, the team wisely hung onto that bountiful crop of blue chip prospects their development system was known to have, using them these coming years to get yet another postseason bid. It’s why their roster is balanced with veteran stars capable of producing like MVP’s and young players ready to take that next step, having shaken off the stagnation that has infested the developmental steps the players take in the minor leagues. We’ve seen the fruits of that decision not to make a play for the wild card round these past few years as young players have stepped up when injuries have happened in the lineup, on the mound and out in the bullpen.
The Eagles are going to go into this offseason with a big question at the quarterback position, but was the disappointing play Jalen Hurts put on display really worth it? Sure he got some playoff exposure, seeing that NFL playoff football does not equal college football national championships, but boy, I’ll bet he just feels terrible that he did it in front of a national TV audience. Getting into the playoffs was nice, but the psyche of Hurts is now going to be another question this team has to wonder about all offseason long.
It’s a good thing that the Phillies avoided that kind of embarrassment of their own in 2019. It would have been cringe inducing to have a lineup that included Bryce Harper (35 HR/114 RBI), J.T. Realmuto (25/83) and Rhys Hoskins (29/85) take their hacks against any of those far superior teams. The mere thought of Harper having to face someone like Walker Buehler is <shudders>.
The next time we think about criticizing the front office for standing pat, for not helping the major league team with players that would help them sneak into the postseason, remember this game by the Eagles. Remember the sage decision making by Andy MacPhail that has helped set this team up for future playoff runs. Making the playoffs as a wild card team - in ANY sport - sometimes just isn’t worth the trouble.