As a Phillies fan, I have been lucky enough to see a World Series title in 2008. Now 10 years later, the Phillies are in a great position to make the playoffs. Right now, the Phillies are two games back in the division and currently hold the second wild-card spot. You may be sitting there reading this article thinking I’m crazy. Yes, I titled the article “Division title or bust?” I did this for a reason, and the reason is that I believe this to be the case.
Today was a special day celebrating the 2008 #Phillies championship team. Glad I witnessed the festivities with my Dad. Many alumni he saw play in his younger years were on hand. I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life. Thank you @Phillies pic.twitter.com/ErWsQI86dt
— Bryan Florence (@bryanflorence) August 6, 2018
Making the playoffs
Of course, I would love to see the Phillies play in October this season. Especially after the last five years of terrible baseball. But the question becomes, is just making the wild-card game enough? I don’t think so, I really don’t. What I’m doing here is looking at the Phillies’ team as a whole. Their strengths and more importantly their weaknesses.
#Phillies are 2 games behind the Braves, but still the 2nd wild card and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Do you believe this team has run out of gas and is no longer a serious contender? Or do you still believe?
Why or why not? Give us your reasons
— Jon Marks & Ike Reese on 94WIP (@MarksReeseWIP) August 15, 2018
Why not the wild-card game?
Even though the wild-card game is considered making the playoffs, it is really just game 163. This was extremely true years ago when there was just a single wild-card spot. There were countless “Game 163s,” in order to gain the division title or even to grab hold of that wild-card spot.
That is where the problem lies. The Phillies could make the playoffs in 2018, and be guaranteed just one single game. As a Phillies fan, this is not what I want.
If we look at the Phillies’ strengths, their starting rotation is without a doubt the biggest one. So, why don’t we play a little hypothetical game here? Let’s say that the Phillies end the season in one of the wild-card spots. Who do you start on the mound in that game? Assuming that every pitcher is on the same days’ rest and everything is perfect. Do you start Aaron Nola or Jake Arrieta? Nola has been the best pitcher on the staff all season, while Arrieta has postseason experience and even more importantly he has pitched in a wild-card game before.
How much do you weigh postseason experience compared to a workload of an entire season? This is just the first tough question that needs to be answered when having just a one-game playoff. We haven’t even gotten into the struggling offense yet. Who starts at first base? Who starts at catcher? Playing the match-ups becomes incredibly harder when it is just a single game.
Why it is so important to win the division title
By winning the division title, the Phillies place themselves in the best spot to make a deep run in the postseason. Again, looking at the strength of the pitching staff this season. In a playoff series, a team needs just three starters (maybe four depending on the tv schedule). This will allow Gabe Kapler to run out Nola, then Arrieta, and finally possibly Zach Eflin.
Right there, winning the division provides the Phillies with a huge advantage. Okay, I know what you are thinking again. “Yeah, obviously all of this is common sense.” Yes, it may be common sense, but many fans do not realize how important it will be for the Phillies to go out and win this division.
Winning the division allows for better match-ups over the course of at least a five-game series. That is exactly what the 2018 Phillies need. The way that Kapler has managed this team all season has been about the better match-up.
Let’s take a step back
I want to say again, of course, I want to see the Phillies in the playoffs this season. That would be a huge step in the right direction for a team that has been rebuilding for five-ish years. However, I also want to reiterate my point about how for this particular Phillies team, it should be the division title or bust.
Kapler has been extremely reliant on the numbers and match-ups this entire season. This is not a bad thing, but this will cause a problem if it is a must-win game.
NL PLAYOFF RACE * 8.17.18
— Phillies Nation (@philliesnation) August 17, 2018
This particular roster does not have a lot of postseason experience. Arrieta and Carlos Santana played against each other in the 2016 World Series. Besides that, there really is not much. When you combine that with the fact that the Phillies have a first-year manager, it truly makes it division title or bust for this Phillies team.
Now, let me end this article by saying this. I think I’ve been clear with the fact that I would love to see the Phillies in the playoffs this season. However, I do not believe that this team will be able to make a deep run in October if they don’t win the division. A single game playoff will most likely be extremely tough for this young group of players.
The best possible chance for this group to succeed is in a series format. That is why I believe this should be viewed as a division title or bust type of finish for the Phillies.