The Mets are 9-3 against the Phillies in 2022.
Let’s clarify a bit. They’re 9-3 against Version 1.0 of the Phillies this season. They are about to see Version 2.0.
The Phillies were 22-29 with Joe Girardi as manager. They’re 40-19 with Rob Thompson; only the Dodgers and Braves have more wins in that time frame. The schedule-makers certainly didn’t do Girardi any favors. His group played the Mets — the best team in the division — 12 times but didn’t play the Nationals — the worst team in the division — even once.
Thompson’s Phillies, on the other hand, haven’t played the Mets even a single time, but they’re 10-2 against the club from our nation’s capitol. Probably goes without saying, but the difference between playing 12 games against the Mets (who have 73 wins) and 12 games against the Nationals (who have 37) is HUGE.
So this is fair to wonder: Were Girardi’s Phillies really that awful or was that record mostly the result of playing a brutal Mets-heavy schedule? And conversely, are Thompson’s Phillies really this good — their .672 winning percentage since the change is a 109-win pace for a full season — or have they largely benefitted from a Nats-heavy schedule?
We will, of course, never know the answer to that question. The schedule is the schedule, and Thompson’s the manager, not Girardi. The Phillies 2.0 get a chance to prove they’re not a Nats-feasting mirage this weekend, when they hit the road for a three-game series at Citi Field. No word yet on whether Keith Hernandez will be in the broadcast booth for SNY.
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It’s far too much of a stretch to call this series a battle for the NL East. The Mets are 73-39 on the season, have won 19 of their past 24 games and own a sizable lead in the division, by seven games over the Braves and 10 over the Phillies. The Mets are the better team, especially now that Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom are back healthy and in the rotation.
But this series is important for the Phillies, make no mistake.
For starters, they’re in the heart of the NL wild-card race. Assuming the Mets do wind up winning the NL East, there are five teams competing for four playoff spots. Either the Cardinals or Brewers will take the Central division crown, and the second-place team in that division will be in the mix with the Braves, Phillies and Padres for the three wild-card spots. One will be left out in the cold.
The series against the Mets is also an important measuring stick. New York rolls out its A-rotation cycle; Scherzer is slated to start on Friday, deGrom on Saturday and Chris Bassitt — with a 3.39 ERA and only overlooked because of the guys above him in the rotation — goes on Sunday. That’s the trio that gives every other team with October aspirations the dry heaves.
The Phillies will counter with Ranger Suarez, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. That trio gives every Philly fan hope that this could not only be the first year since 2011 the club gets to October, but the year the team wins a playoff series or two.
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Being competitive this weekend matters. Are the Phillies good enough to stay with the Mets for nine innings three days in a row? Can they get into the late innings with a shot to win in games started by Scherzer and deGrom?
Just the fact that this series has a whiff of importance speaks to how well the Phillies have been playing under Thompson. Their faults are still faults; they’re not a good defensive team — just ask Hernandez — though adding Brandon Marsh’s glove to the outfield mix was a step in the right direction. And the slumbering bat of Nick Castellanos has finally shown signs of life; he has a .319 average and a .827 OPS in his past 13 games, a run that included a two-run homer in the eighth inning of a 3-1 win against Atlanta on Aug. 3. That was easily his biggest knock in a Phillies uniform. And though it’s not all about him, it probably isn’t a huge coincidence that Philly is 12-1 in those 13 games.
And the Phillies, like the Blue Jays, have put themselves in position to do something that hasn’t happened in more than a decade — qualify for the postseason after firing a manager in season. The last club to do that was the 2009 Rockies, who fired Clint Hurdle when they were 18-28. Jim Tracy came in and worked baseball miracles; Colorado went 74-42 the rest of the way and claimed the lone NL wild card, by four games over the Giants.
Maybe the most impressive element of the recent solid play is this: They’re doing it without 2021 NL MVP Bryce Harper, who has been on the IL since late June, when a wayward fastball broke the thumb on his left hand. He’s hopeful to return at some point in September — there is no exact timetable yet — and that would be a boost to the lineup. But that’s down the road.
Up next is the series with the Mets, and that will tell this Phillies team everything it needs to know — good and bad — about its ability to compete with a team capable of winning it all in October.