Phillies observations and thoughts as World Series showdown with Astros nears


PHILADELPHIA — The supply was low, and the party was just beginning Sunday night. No one had noticed yet. But someone is always behind the scenes watching. A Phillies clubhouse employee pushed a flatbed cart with a towering pile of beer cases into the middle of the room.

Everyone cheered.

In the weeks since the Phillies altered the course of the entire organization with a postseason run that might be unparalleled in its unexpectedness, there have been small moments to appreciate the insanity of it all. Maybe it’s a head shake in passing. A quick interaction with no words exchanged, just a look that is understood. Can you believe this? Sometimes, it’s a glance and a raised eyebrow.

JT Realmuto stood near that beer cart Sunday and basked in it all. He took a drink. He is the highest-paid catcher in the sport and had never reached the postseason until this October. Now, he was going to the World Series. The 2022 Phillies will always walk together — no matter what happens against Houston.

But this journey toward eternal greatness had inched closer. Four more wins.

“Incredible, man,” Realmuto said.

There was nothing else to say. The Phillies rested Monday and Tuesday. They will have a workout Wednesday morning at Citizens Bank Park, then fly to Houston for the 118th Fall Classic. They have played 173 games since Opening Day on April 8. It takes more than talent to still be standing.

With about 60 hours until the World Series begins, here are some observations and thoughts on the Phillies.

Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and company celebrate after winning the NLCS. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

Aaron Nola was going to start the next game the Phillies played in the National League Championship Series, so it is logical that he starts Game 1 of the World Series. (Realmuto, actually, said Nola was in consideration for the emergency closer role that Ranger Suárez filled in Game 5. But Nola said he was not aware of that, and he was not wearing his spikes in the dugout.) Either way, starting Nola on Friday, the ninth day since he last pitched, allows an extra day for Zack Wheeler.

He probably needs it. The Phillies have not pushed Wheeler past the 90-pitch mark since his first postseason start against St. louis He’s lost velocity in the later innings of his outings. It’s not surprising; these starts are emotional and Wheeler, like any pitcher, has more juice at the beginning. The pitches in the postseason exact a different level of stress on the body. Wheeler has allowed five runs in 25 1/3 innings with 25 strikeouts against three walks. He is on an incredible run. If an extra day helps him feel 2 percent better, it’s worth it.

There are larger concerns as it relates to the series. If Nola starts Game 1, that means he returns for a Game 5 while Wheeler would slot into Game 6.

Would the Phillies consider either one of them on short rest for Games 4 and 5? Probably not. Now, if Nola pitches Game 5 and there is a Game 7, he could be in play for a few innings because he’d have two days between those appearances. Neither Nola nor Wheeler has ever pitched on short rest.

But, if the Phillies are that close to a championship, the past matters little.

It would be surprising if the Phillies altered their roster from the NLCS to the World Series, but it might be worthwhile to have a conversation about Brad Hand. The Astros, like the Padres, have a dangerous lefty hitter who looms in the middle of their lineup. Hand was there for Juan Soto in the middle innings. It did not always work well. Hand, at times, looked like a pitcher who knew he did not have swing-and-miss stuff in the zone and was fearful of throwing strikes. It’s hard to trust him against Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez.

Last round, the Phillies added lefty Christopher Sánchez to their taxi squad. He was not with the Phillies during the NLDS; he was working with the “stay ready” group in Clearwater, Fla. The team wanted him nearby in the NLCS. They have always liked the idea of ​​Sánchez as a traditional reliever. He spent most of the season bouncing between rotation and bullpen roles.

Could Sánchez be in play for the World Series? It would be a huge risk; he has not pitched in a game since Oct. 1. Sánchez has a power sinker the Phillies like. It was a promising pitch for him in the majors. And, there’s this: Alvarez batted .283 with a .396 slugging percentage against sinkers from lefty pitchers. There are very few ways to quell Alvarez’s power stroke, but this is one.

Maybe the Phillies are more confident in Connor Brogdon, whose changeup was a weapon against lefty hitters all season. (They hit .217 with a .304 slugging percentage against it.) Only problem: Alvarez hit .339 with a .898 slugging percentage versus changeups from righties in 2022.

He can change a series, and he’s a tough matchup no matter who is on the mound.

There will be time to step back and assess the meaning of this October once the end has been written. Even so, the ripple effects are immense.

Consider this: The Phillies, in a flash, have generated considerable interest in their team that will lead to an influx of money through merchandise and ticket sales. The season-ticket base for 2023 will be larger. The fan base has connected with the personalities on this team who are locked into the roster for the foreseeable future. The younger players, even if they have not always factored into the postseason success, are experiencing it. They will carry these moments with them for the remainder of their careers.

And, as manager Rob Thomson has helped create a relaxed culture that looks quite fun, there are players sitting at home who might want to be a part of that. The Phillies will be spenders again this winter. They’ll have a bullpen to build, a spot on the middle infield to fill, and maybe a rotation spot or two. Philadelphia is an attractive destination right now.

Yes, this deep run probably will extend Bryce Harper’s absence at the beginning of 2023 after he handles whatever he needs to handle this offseason to fix his right elbow so he can play right field again. Does anyone with the Phillies care right now? no.

Andrew Painter, the organization’s top prospect who rose to Double A as a 19-year-old starter, was among those in the crowd at Citizens Bank Park over the weekend. He was scheduled to be in Philadelphia for a routine medical appointment.

He told the Phillies he wanted to come to the games. He brought his dad.

“Playoff baseball in Philadelphia is an atmosphere that you have to witness in person to fully grasp,” Phillies director of player development Preston Mattingly said. “We’re thrilled that Andrew got to experience it firsthand.”

The Phillies have big ideas for Painter in 2023. They expect him to factor into the big-league plans at some point — maybe sooner rather than later.

Reaching the World Series is an organizational triumph, and the Phillies have always treated it as such. The team will pay for every full-time employee not based in Philadelphia to fly into town for Games 3-5 at Citizens Bank Park. They’ll receive two tickets to each game. Every Philadelphia-based full-time employee will be offered airfare and tickets for Games 1-2 in Houston. The club’s traveling party to Texas will be more than 400 people.

Many of those employees — whether they are from the team’s Florida complex or international operations or scouting staff — have helped in their small way.

Before the postseason started, the Phillies marshaled their scouts and assigned them to follow potential opponents. Every team does advance scouting ahead of the postseason. Often those assignments result in nothing because the team is eliminated or the specific matchup never materializes. It is a different form of scouting; they are not evaluating players but, instead, looking for trends, tells, or anything that might not appear in the data or on video.

The Phillies had three scouts following San Diego for weeks looking for the tiniest details that could possibly be exploited in a seven-game series. Those scouts — Erick Dalton, Brad Sloan and Dan Wright — met with Thomson and his coaches before the NLCS to review their reports and plot strategy. The same thing, with different scouts who have been trailing Houston since late September, will happen this week.

This late in a season, it takes everyone.

(Top photo of Zack Wheeler: Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)


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