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October 16, 2022

Phillies ownership validated after long road to playoff success

It wasn't long ago that the Phillies seemed, well, hopeless.

The roster was overpaid, the farm system was completely depleted and September collapses were more expected than success was.

Having never eclipsed the luxury tax spending threshold, Phillies principal owner John Middleton — who famously said they his team was going to spend stupid money when they backed up the brinks truck to sign Bryce Harper — decided that he was going to give team president Dave Dombrowski essentially a blank check to build a real contender.

It happened slowly, as injuries and inconsistent play from their stars led to a necessary manager change to shake things up. But somehow, some way, the Phillies hung on to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth and validated their plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on designated hitter type players.

"We gotta give credit to Dave Dombrowski," Middleton told PhillyVoice, shouting over blasting music and celebrating in the Phillies locker room Saturday night. "There's a reason why he's the only guy in the history of baseball to take three different franchises to the World Series. He is so smart, he can construct teams in so many different ways around so many different abilities and he figured it out."

Many were critical of the Phillies decision to really focus in on offense at the possible expense of a reliable defense. More were dubious when the team brought in veterans to fill out an oft-underachieving bullpen and only a modest rotation upgrade was made in trading for Noah Syndergaard.

It was clear Saturday, after winning two playoff series with baseball performances that were seemingly shot out of a cannon, there was a bellowing sense of relief felt all the way from the enthused fans to the bat boys to the front office.

"It's an odd thing," Middleton said. "I think the biggest relief was actually making the postseason. There's a lot of stress that you cleared the first hurdle in St. Louis and your reward is more stress, we cleared another hurdle now, we are going to the championship series and it's going to be even more stress. It's way better than sitting on your couch at home."

The next stress test will come against another Wild Card team that knocked off one of the other top NL contenders in the Padres, who are slight favorites to win the series although it is almost an even line. Philadelphia knocked off the defending champs from Atlanta. San Diego knocked off the best team in the National League from L.A.

It seems like Philly sports are at their best when the city is an underdog. And this Phillies team, despite it's star power and strength up and down the lineup — led by its top two aces on the mound — are once again embracing the feeling of being overlooked.

"I think within the baseball industry people under appreciated us and I think that did help," Middleton said. "We were always the underdogs and people continued to overlook us. And I kept telling people we have arguably a 1 and 2 as good as any in baseball. I put Zack [Wheeler] and Aaron [Nola] up against literally any team. We have guys who are really superstars. And to Rob Thomson's credit he brought younger guys up... these guys now believe in themselves. They believe they belong here and that's honestly what's made the difference for us."

"We talk about it of after every series," Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto added. "We always ask, who is the MVP of this series? Who is the reason we got here? And it's always hard to answer that question for us because so many guys contribute. There's not one person carrying the team. It's top to bottom. It's the bottom of the lineup."

Baseball is the ultimate individual team sport, and the Phillies — perhaps fleetingly — seemed to have cracked that code.

You might not have believed it in April, but the Phillies built themselves a team tailor made for postseason baseball. And the entire city is starting to believe.

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