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Yes, the Phillies do deserve to be here

MLB: San Diego Padres at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the postgame euphoria that most were basking in, you may or may not have been scanning social media to get some reaction from people outside of Philadelphia. Girding your loins for the takes about the Phillies, you might have thought people would have been impressed, happy, or maybe even a little wistful of their own teams not being able to celebrate. Instead, what you saw was a lot of diaper filled takes about the Phillies making the World Series. We are all aware of the complex that the city’s fans have about their perception among the national media, warranted or unwarranted. But as the people started to come to realize that the Phillies were going to represent the National League next Friday night in game one, they started to complain, once again, about the format MLB agreed to regarding the playoff system.

Lol.

It’s eerily similar to those people who complained about the Braves and Dodgers being bounced out of the playoffs following their upsets in the Division Series, two hundred win teams that were suddenly watching the rest of the playoffs from their sectional sofas at home. The takes were ridiculous then and they’re just as ridiculous now.

Rushing to the defense of the Phillies, there are some whose initial reaction is to go back to 2011 and point to how that year, the Phillies could have complained about the playoff format but didn’t. The Phillies had the best team in baseball, but couldn’t make it out of the Division Series themselves, bested by a Cardinals team that rolled to the World Series seemingly in their stead. Was it fair that the Phillies had to play only a five game series? Was it fair that they couldn’t show the depth of their pitching staff over a seven game series? Maybe, maybe not, but a simple solution to that was that they could have also won more games than the Cardinals.

No, the real issue with this argument this year about the Phillies advancing this far is this preposterous idea that the Phillies “don’t deserve” to make the World Series when anyone who has watched postseason baseball over the past few seasons knows that they constructed their roster in such a way that they were built to win specifically in the postseason. Now, they’re reaping the rewards of that roster construction.

Think about the discourse surrounding this year’s playoffs and the teams prognosticators were choosing to represent their respective leagues in the Fall Classic. Think also about the reasons why they were being chosen.

  • the Mets: two aces at the top of the rotation, a dominant closer, an offense that could hit the ball out of the ballpark
  • the Dodgers: a deep pitching staff, an offense led by three top of the lineup forces
  • the Astros: three pitchers that could dominate a game, an offense that had sluggers and depth, a bullpen that could give you multiple outs

We’ve seen that in postseason baseball, there are things that a team needs in order to win. On offense, you need to be able to hit home runs and have plentiful patience during plate appearances. The pitching in the postseason is the best in baseball and can shut down a team that relies more on contact than power by simply blowing them away. Having that contact is great, but these pitchers are capable of striking out teams with ease. In order to pick up runs in bulk, you have to be able to hit for power in the postseason and you need to have men on base in front of that power.

You need at least two top starting pitchers at the top of your rotation that can go deep into games and get batters out via the strikeout. Any team that possesses two pitchers like Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola will have a solid chance to win four games in a seven game series. If a team is lucky enough to have a third starter that can go five or more innings of effective pitching, it’s a huge plus as it could help the manager have to rely less on the soft underbelly of his bullpen. Instead, he’ll be able to lean on the best three or four relievers he’s got.

Speaking of which, a team that can find three or four relievers that can get themselves out of jams with the strikeout, as well as go multiple innings over two outings, gives managers a huge puzzle piece at the end of the game. Being able to ask starters, even the dominant ones, to only get 15-18 outs a game is such a huge change from the regular season, one that purists may bristle at, but in the playoffs, the stress associated with each pitch can wear out a pitcher faster than they usually do. To be able to count on those three or four relievers each game is a big advantage.

Now, look at how the Phillies were built coming into 2022.

Offense that could thunder? Check

Two aces? We were waiting on Nola, but...check.

Bullpen? Once things clicked into place...check.

Most people were sure that the offense would be able to score runs in bunches and they have, save for Nick Castellanos and his disappointing season. Not many were confident in Nola heading into the season, but all he has done is thrust himself into the runner-up spot for the Cy Young voting, giving the Phillies two bonafide aces come October. The bullpen was such a question mark for most of the first half of the season, but credit to those men at the end of the game. Led by the resurgence of Jose Alvarado, the recovery of Seranthony Dominguez, the emergence of a reliable Zach Eflin and the deadline acquisition of David Robertson, the Phillies have weapons to deploy as early as the sixth inning in any game of a series.

There will be hurdles in the World Series for them to get past if they want to wear the crown. The biggest weakness of the team, the defense, has reared its ugly head on more than one occasion these last two series against the Braves and Padres. They were able to overcome them and still manage to win, but they’ll have to play much cleaner games starting Friday. As outstanding as the top of the lineup performed against San Diego, they’ll need to get much, much more production out of the bottom part of the lineup in order to grind out wins next week. By this point, we know what the formula is for the team to win with their end of the game pitching plans, but they will have to have someone step up in a big way to give them an unexpected contribution.

They may not have been the expected National League champion, the one that most people wanted to see battle whoever emerges from the American League. One thing that cannot be said is that they don’t deserve to be there.