Alas, it is over.
The dream season we all had wished for, the desire to drink from the World Series fountain after merely getting a taste in 2022, it’s all gone.
After hearing so much about the home field advantage provided by the fans, frothing at the mouth, clamoring to impose their will on the opposition, the Phillies have ended their season, falling to the upstart Diamondbacks in what is ultimately going to be a frustrating NLCS, one that was there for the taking, yet ended with gloomy faces watching the opponent celebrate on their field. We’ll never know what could have been, how they could have gone into Arlington as a possible favorite to bring home a title,
That means it’s time to write the obituary for the Phillies for 2023 and that becomes a difficult task. Not difficult due to lack of moments because boy howdy were there moments. The difficulty lies in the lack of clarity as to what kind of season 2023 was. Was it a disappointing season since it does not end with the raising of any kind of flag, or was it a success because they fell to a baseball superpower after making the playoffs in the first place? Recency bias is going to be overwhelming, particularly in light of how the team lost the NLCS, but we have to go higher. If we’re going to judge the entirety of the 2023 season, there must be a 60,000 foot view rather than from the ground. Let’s look at both sides of the coin.
It was a disappointment
Any time you make it to the NLCS, failure to take the series is often the season defining moment.
You got this close, yet didn’t seal the deal? Your season is a failure. It’s an understandable sentiment since the ultimate goal is to be able to say “gee whiz, we sure did get close!” The ultimate goal is to be able to raise a flag in April, be it a National League pennant or a World Series championship. So, if we base this argument on that logic, then yes. The season was a failure.
For the Phillies, one can argue this is where they are at. There was no making the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. They made it with plenty to spare. In fact, they were roundly proclaimed as a possible World Series favorite before the first pitch was even thrown. Steamrolling the Marlins was seen as a mere formality in their quest to have another showdown with the Atlanta Braves. Once they slayed that beast, the Diamondbacks presented nothing more than a speed bump on the road to the World Series.
And yet here we are.
Armed with the highest payroll in team history, they made it baseball’s version of the Final Four, but no one will remember that. Instead, they’ll remember the shortcomings that led to their exit: the offense not showing up in games three, six and seven, the bullpen self immolating in game four in which a victory was seemingly in their grasp, Aaron Nola reverting back to his 2023 form instead of the ace we had seen in his previous four postseason starts. These will be the moments that stick in our heads when looking back at the 2023 season.
You want to talk about the awesome month of June they ripped off? No thanks. They lost the NLCS.
The home run explosion that happened in August? No thanks. They lost the NLCS.
All of those vibes that were talked about, written about and actually studied at a collegiate level? Gone.
The vaunted home field advantage, Citizens Bank Park becoming a den of vipers that no team could vanquish? Gone.
2023 was a season of failure because the goal was not accomplished. There is no ring for making it this far. There is no banner for the first wild card (though it wouldn’t surprise me if someone made one up). There is no solace in the fact that they were just a bunch of crazy eyed himbos who came together on this wild ride to get ever so close to playing for a title. They lost and they lost in excruciating fashion.
It’ll be remembered for a long, long time.
It was a success
Let’s take a step back right now.
Making the playoffs is hard. Even in this age of three division winners and three wild cards per league, there are still 18 teams that have been on vacation since October 1. Any one of them would have taken a shot at playoff glory in exchange for earlier tee times on the golf course. Not only were the Phillies among those twelve that made it to the final groups, they thrived during those playoffs. The series against the Marlins, as lopsided as it was, showed what the team is capable off when playing its best baseball. Aggressive baserunning, power, excellent starting pitching and timely outs from the bullpen - these are the new hallmarks of the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s a formula to winning that they have sided with and show no signs of letting go of.
Facing the Braves, they continued to press, battering the proverbial favorites into submission and brushing them aside as one does with a fly or a mosquito. Even in falling to the Diamondbacks, they made it perhaps farther than most people would have figured once the playoff matches were set. Even in the eyes of the most optimistic fan, the Braves felt like the one to take the Phillies down. So, to make it as far as they did, it still feels somewhat satisfying (though you have to get to about 60,000 feet to appreciate the point of view right now).
There were other instances to look back fondly on. The resiliency this team showed throughout the season, after starting off slowly yet again. The home run barrage of August. Kyle Schwarber again ignited whatever fire was inside of him once June began. Nick Castellanos bouncing back to have an All-Star season (don’t talk about his NLCS). Zack Wheeler showing the world’s stage that he is in the upper echelon of starters. Jose Alvarado’s necklaces. Bryce Harper’s 300th home run. There were so many moments to show that yes, this was in fact a successful season, no matter what happened at the end.
There are a lot of emotions right now when talking about the Phillies. Many of them are going to be negative. There will be some outlandish takes about the team that are truly just heat of the moment thoughts that, with hindsight, would probably cause one to blush. You’ll find a few positive people out there trying to talk people off the ledge, but for now, it’s best to let people react how they’re going to react. No feeling is wrong, no emotion to extreme. We invest so much time and energy into this team and to see how they bowed out, that is going to get a reaction.
The question becomes, how will you remember this season? Was it a success or was it a disappointment?