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Will this Phillies team be different this September?

Is it a Phillies September deja vu all over again?

Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In the months of June, July and August, the Phillies went 52-29, tied with the Houston Astros for the 3rd-best record in Major League Baseball. Only the Dodgers and Braves were better.

Last week, the Phillies traveled to Arizona and San Francisco for six games against the Diamondbacks and Giants and went 1-5.

You’d think fans would more readily accept the longer sample size of 81 games, half a baseball season, than one week of awful baseball on the west coast.

Those people haven’t watched the Phillies play baseball in September over the last five years.

  • 2018: 8-20
  • 2019: 12-16
  • 2020: 13-17
  • 2021: 14-16
  • 2022: 0-3 (so far)

That’s a 47-72 record and a .395 winning percentage over the last four Septembers, plus three games this year.

Phillies fans have been burned by their baseball team in the final month, and they’ve seen it under multiple managers, multiple pitching staffs, multiple general managers and multiple lineups. And while there are some players who have been regular staples over the last five seasons, nearly half of the 2022 Phils (15 out of 33 either on the active roster or the injured list) were not on this team last year.

But the Phillies are in full-on “trust, but verify” status right now. No one is going to believe this team is different until they prove they are. Meanwhile, the Twitter doom-scrolling is in full effect.

The Phils are 3-5 since Bryce Harper has returned from injury, a fact not lost on a number of folks on the internet who think Harper’s return has taken some of the competitive edge off his teammates, now relaxing more expecting the reigning MVP to come to their rescue. But in reality, the answer to the Phils’ problems over the last week are very simple.

  • Injuries are mounting.
  • Starters are struggling.
  • Relievers are throwing too many innings.
  • Offense bombed with runners in scoring position.

The loss of Zack Wheeler over the last week has been mitigated somewhat by the outstanding work of Bailey Falter, but having a healthy Wheeler would allow Falter to act as a 6th arm and perhaps give everyone a 5th day of rest down the stretch. Having a healthy Wheeler in the rotation is imperative for this team to break its postseason drought. Seranthony Dominguez may pitch this weekend, but that’s up in the air. Nick Castellanos, who slugged .500 in the month of August, is out with an oblique. Those can be tricky.

The hope is Zach Eflin and Griff McGarry can pitch some meaningful innings down the stretch and provide a pitching staff some fresh innings, but McGarry is a rookie who started the season in A-ball and Eflin’s health status is always on the razor’s edge.

The starting pitching was brutal out west, but was it just a one-week mirage? They averaged four innings per start. As a team, the Phils issued SIX bases-loaded walks, as well as a HBP to force in a run. They had a game where they walked 10 batters. Another where they walked 8. The defense was shoddier than it had been.

There’s also the possibility that blown 7-0, 4th-inning lead in the very first game a week ago shook the team’s confidence and put them in a lousy place mentally. Something like that can stick with a team for a little while.

It was a nasty witch’s brew of stink, but one Phillies fans are all-too familiar with when the calendar flips to September.

The team’s recent past makes it almost impossible to give Rob Thomson and his team the benefit of the doubt, but perhaps one can take heart in how consistently they’ve played since he took over.

From June to July, the Phils were an elite, World Series contender. Their offense piled up the 6th-most runs and were 7th in OPS, the starting rotation was 2nd in starters’ fWAR, 8th in ERA and 3rd in innings pitched, and the bullpen was tied for 4th in fWAR, and 8th in FIP. As a result, the Phillies built up a comfortable lead for one of the final two wild cards heading into the final month.

They are one of three teams, along with the Padres and Brewers, battling for two playoff spots. The Brewers are more deeply flawed than the Phils, although their strength of schedule the rest of the way is as easy as the Phillies’. The Padres, who currently sit tied with the Phils for Wild Card No. 2, have one of the toughest roads left of any team in baseball. Fangraphs says the Phils are still 76.5% to make the playoffs, with Baseball Reference at an even more bullish 87.6%.

Not as high as last week, but still pretty high.

It’s understandable if you don’t buy those numbers. It’s understandable if you don’t think the Phillies will be able to take care of business against the woeful Nationals and struggling Marlins, who come to Philadelphia this week riding a seven-game losing streak. After all, the Giants had lost seven in a row as the Phils arrived in San Francisco, and look how that turned out.

These next nine games, six against Miami and three versus Washington, are make-or-break, with Aaron Nola’s start tonight the most important of his career. He can set the tone by pitching solid baseball tonight and help stop the ghosts of final month failures. It also wouldn’t kill for Kyle Schwarber to get on another hot streak, for Bryce Harper to put the team on his back and for the rest of the Day Care to pop up with some surprise production here and there.

If the Phils win at least six of their next nine, there’s good reason to believe last week’s performance against the Diamondbacks and Giants was simply a bad stretch of baseball. If not, the doom scrolling will be overwhelming.

On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I broke down all the talking points, including:

  • What was the worst loss of last week
  • The struggles of the pitching staff
  • The importance of this week in the playoff chase
  • The state of the race in the NL East

Check it out!