MLB Wild Card: Phillies one of the best teams in baseball since Bryce Harper injury


Bryce Harper’s injury in San Diego on June 25 had a chance to sink the Phillies’ season, sort of like Andrew McCutchen’s injury in San Diego in June 2019 did just that.

The Phillies won their first game without Harper — an important victory because it clinched the season series vs. the Padres, which could matter for tiebreaker purposes — then lost two in a row to the Braves and were 39-37.

At that point, the Phillies were down their best player and trailed seven teams in the National League. They were two games behind the Giants, three behind the Cardinals, 4½ behind the Brewers and 6½ behind the Padres.

They’ve gone 21-11 since to jump ahead of the Giants, Brewers and Padres and move into a tie with the Cardinals. The Phillies now have a 92.8% chance to make the playoffs, according to Baseball-Reference’s simulator.

There’s a lot of baseball left — 54 games, an exact third of the season — but the Phils are playing well collectively, receiving contributions from all over the roster and trending toward the playoffs in a way they haven’t since 2011.

“It’s nothing against the teams that we’ve had here in the past, but I think we have a better team,” said Rhys Hoskins, who homered in a fourth straight game Sunday and felt OK after being hit on the right biceps by a mid-90s fastball.

“I think we’re deeper. I think with the additions that we made at the deadline, we just got more good players. You look at teams that have won and won a lot, especially later in the year, everyone is deep. One guy can go down and another guy steps in. I like our depth this year and I think it’s going to really help us and hopefully carry us into October.”

The Phillies’ rosters from 2018 through 2021 were expensive with standout individual performers, but the team was top-heavy with little depth in key areas. Last summer, they were carried by Harper for three months. This summer, the production has come from nearly every area — some nights it’s been the starter, some nights the bullpen, some nights a young position player, some nights a high-priced vet, some nights all of the above.

Since Harper’s injury, the Phillies have hit the fifth-most home runs in the majors and scored the sixth-most runs. They have the seventh-best record, but only three teams — the Astros, Dodgers and Mariners — have a record more than a game better than the Phillies’ 21-13 without Harper.

“I think we’re better equipped,” manager Rob Thomson said after Sunday’s win. “Every team is different. I know that the last few years we haven’t played well in September, but each team was a little bit different, it wasn’t the same exact group. This is a different group. There’s a lot of leadership in the clubhouse and a lot of winners on the field.”

Only 19 of the Phillies’ 54 remaining games come against teams with winning records, and three of those games are the final three of the season with the Astros, who could already be in rest mode if they or the Yankees have solidified the top seed in the American League by then.

The results of this weekend not only pushed the Phillies up a spot in the wild-card standings but also made the Braves catchable. While the Phils were sweeping the Nationals, the Braves lost four of five to the Mets. The Phillies are now three behind the Braves with seven more head-to-head meetings left, all from September 16-25. While there is little difference between the second and third wild-card spots, the top wild-card team gets home-field advantage in its first playoff series so it will be worth chasing until the end.

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