By: Colin Newby
The Philadelphia Phillies improved to 6-0 under interim manager Rob Thomson on Thursday. Their resurgence since the firing of Joe Girardi has inspired hope within a fan base that has now watched four consecutive managers in red pinstripes leave town without a playoff appearance.
A previously underperforming offense has set the tone, as the Phillies have scored just under eight runs per game during Thomson’s short tenure.
However, recent Phillies history has indicated how short-term hot streaks don’t define a season if they’re not followed by consistent play over longer stretches of time. It’s up to the 2022 squad to convince their fan base that this season is any different.
2019 Opening Weekend Sweep
The offseason acquisitions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Andrew McCutchen awoke a fan base forced to wait through a period of irrelevance after heroes of the 2008 World Series team faded into the twilight of their careers. The new era was on full display with an emphatic sweep of the defending National League East champion Atlanta Braves to open the season.
The atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park gave the organization a taste of what they could’ve reestablished if the product on the field convinced fans to buy in. The expectation of a return to postseason glory rang through Philadelphia, and the excitement continued when the team improved to 10 games over .500 by May 30.
A disastrous month of June exposed the weaknesses of a top-heavy team. The Phillies slipped back into mediocrity, lurking a few games out of a relatively weak field of teams competing for the second NL wild card through the trade deadline.
Harper Grand Slam Caps Off Home Sweep
After making minimal underwhelming moves at the trade deadline in July 2019, the front office halfheartedly insisted they would take action two weeks later. They fired hitting coach John Mallee on August 13 and replaced him with the legendary Charlie Manuel.
As we’ve seen this past week, a coaching change can kickstart adrenaline and push players to perform well in the short term. The Phillies responded to the move with a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park to climb back into striking distance in the playoff race. Harper capped off the series with a walk-off grand slam that once again excited a fan base desperately wishing for a new era.
The Phillies then traveled to San Diego and lost two of three to a lowly Padres team who sat eight games under .500 entering the weekend set. They collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason.
Harper’s 9 out of 10 Prophecy
The Phillies stumbled to a 9-14 record to begin the shortened 2020 season. After a loss to the Braves on August 22, Harper called for a winning streak using theoretical yet peculiar terms.
“We have to go on a streak and win 9 out of 10. It needs to happen.”
The team fulfilled his prophecy with a 9-1 tear and added another win to improve to 19-15 just past the midway point of the season. If any year in MLB history should be an exception to the rule of consistent high performance as a necessity for success, it’s the 60-game sprint of 2020. The Phillies, however, still couldn’t take advantage of the largest postseason field in baseball history. They showed their true colors as an incomplete team with repeated hiccups against the Miami Marlins and missed the playoffs by losing seven of their final eight games.
2021 Opening Series
Memories of 2019 came to the minds of Phillies fans after their team swept the Braves at Citizens Bank Park to open the 2021 season and took two of three in the following series against the New York Mets.
They thought they were watching a more complete team without a disastrous bullpen that would sink the season. However, they got a tough reminder not to draw conclusions from small sample sizes, as the Phillies showed the same weaknesses and slipped into frustrating mediocrity up until the trade deadline.
Seizing the NL East Lead in August 2021
The Phillies salvaged a Sunday finale against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates after losing the first two games after the 2021 trade deadline against their cross-state foes. Fans who had suffered for the better part of the past decade again showed their hunger for a contending baseball team even after they had seen the glaring weaknesses of the roster time after time.
A four-game sweep of the Washington Nationals that included two furious ninth-inning comebacks set up a classic rivalry series between the Phillies and the Mets in early August. The fan base was back at Citizens Bank Park in full force.
The home team swept the hated Mets right out of town and shockingly stole the division lead after a summer of pessimism in the city. Comparisons to the late-season chase for the NL East pennant in 2007 spread throughout Philadelphia.
The Phillies handed over the division lead just as fast as they seized it. They went from two games ahead in the NL East standings on August 8 to five games behind the Braves on August 26 and never regained playoff position.
What is different in 2022?
Some things have changed. The MLB playoff field has expanded to six teams for each league, for one, making it easier for a team who finishes the month of May with a 21-29 record to qualify.
This Phillies roster is their most talented since 2011. It features hitters with legitimate major league track records who fans should realistically expect to perform better than they have during the first two months of 2022. Kyle Schwarber has already provided a case in point with a red-hot bat in the month of June.
The change from Girardi to Thomson has clearly sparked the team.
Ultimately, it’s the same organization riding the same type of momentum and facing the same question of whether or not they can sustain success after energetic and emotional victories.
The fans have repeatedly proven during the most recent era of franchise history how badly they want to get behind a team in contention for a playoff spot. They’ve shown an incredible willingness to overlook flawed rosters because they miss the electric atmosphere of meaningful baseball at Citizens Bank Park, only to watch ineptitude kill any and all momentum.
It’s quite simply up to the Phillies themselves to prove to their tortured fans that this time is any different.