Every year Phillies fans go through a rollercoaster of emotions, but one that seems too frustratingly familiar is heartbreak.
The season that appeared destined to end with the Phillies back in the World Series came to an abrupt end on Oct. 24 in Game 7 of the NLCS. Down three games to two, the Arizona Diamondbacks entered Citizens Bank Park and beat the odds, triumphing on consecutive nights at a stadium where their opponents, the Phillies, were a perfect 6-0 during this year’s playoffs.
The Phillies were just one win away from a second consecutive National League pennant. So the team’s unforeseen collapse seemed to sting even more than last year’s loss. The storybook ending turned into a tragic cliffhanger, leaving Phillies fans with a bitter taste of what could have been.
Rough season start
After a heartbreaking loss against the Houston Astros in the World Series last year, the Philadelphia Phillies needed a comeback season. But their road to redemption didn’t start off quite as planned.
With Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins sidelined due to injuries, a noticeable gap at first base remained unfilled throughout the beginning of the season. Furthermore, the team’s high-profile acquisition of shortstop Trea Turner who inked an 11-year, $300-million contract following his incredible performance in the World Baseball Classic, initially proved disappointing as he delivered one of the poorest seasons in his career.
Despite earning considerably less than the seasoned all-stars on the roster, the team’s youngsters and close-knit companions, including Brandon Marsh, Alec Bohm, and Bryson Stott, were essentially the glue that held the team intact.
Pitching also undeniably struggled, with aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler woefully underperforming, and early season injuries to Ranger Suarez and Andrew Painter.
The turnaround of a lifetime
It wasn’t until midseason that the Phillies began to turn their jarring season around. Many attribute this sudden turnaround to a simple standing ovation.
There was no question that Turner was in the midst of the worst season of his career, but contrary to the customary ruthlessness of Philadelphia fans, the crowd took a new approach. Instead of booing the shortstop for his struggles, on Aug. 4, they came together gave him a roaring standing ovation, showing a rare level of empathy and support.
And just like that, Turner and the entire Phillies team were reborn.
Turner responded with a complete turnaround. In the last 48 games of the regular season, his on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.057 ranked as the fourth highest in the major leagues.
Even more shocking is that all of his teammates followed suit. Bryce Harper, coming off of the fastest recovery from Tommy John surgery in MLB history, had a power resurgence in the second half of the season, and became an inductee into the 300 home run club. Michael Lorenzen, a trade deadline addition to the team, made history pitching a no-hitter against the Washington Nationals in his first-ever Phillies home game.
Before Turner’s enthusiastic reception, the Phillies were 57-54, a winning percentage of .510. After the ovation, the team went 33-18 for the remainder of the season, a .647 winning percentage. By the end of August, the Phillies hit a season high with 14 games over .500, with the most-ever home runs hit in one month in franchise history.
By the end of the regular season, the Phillies secured the number one spot in the NL Wild Card round and were headed to the postseason for the second year in a row.
Fall from grace
The Phillies had the upper hand heading into the playoffs. In the first round they swept the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card series, winning two games back-to-back.
Next, they faced the Atlanta Braves, the top-seeded team in the National League and the odds on favorite to win the World Series. The Braves sported the most talented roster in baseball, finishing with a league-high 104 regular season wins.
The Phillies love being underdogs and responded by dominating the Braves for the second year in a row. The baseball world watched in shock as the heavily-favored Braves team unraveled at the seams.
The 2023 Braves were the third team in MLB history to hit 300 home runs in a season, but the Phillies outhomered the Braves 11-3 in the series, and their six home runs in the Game 3 victory equaled a playoff record. Harper, with two of those home runs, made playoff history for the second year with an epic showing and an infamous staredown at adversary Orlando Arcia that will be remembered years to come.
The Phils clinched the series 3-1 to move on to the NLCS. After knocking out the league favorite, everything for the Phils should have been downhill from there, right? Not quite.
The Phillies’ opponent in the NLCS was the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks were a young upstart team who swept both the Brewers and the heavily favored Dodgers. They were the only obstacle standing in the way of another World Series showing.
The Phils took an early lead in the series 2-0, overpowering the Diamondbacks in Game 2 with a 10-run win. The series appeared to be in hand until they inexplicably dropped the next two games, losing Game 3 on a ninth inning walk-off and Game 4 due to pitcher Craig Kimbrel’s implosion.
The Phillies bounced back to win Game 5 to put them up 3-2 in the series, one win away from a World Series return. But what came next will be remembered as one of the most epic collapses in Phillies sports history.
With Games 6 and 7 at home, the Phillies had the upper hand. Instead of capitalizing on this advantage, the bats went dead at the most untimely and crucial part of the season. The Phils scored only three runs in the last two games, reenergizing the Diamondbacks. The collapse sent them packing with a gut-wrenching NLCS exit.
Though the season didn’t end as expected with a parade down Broad Street and everyone singing to “Dancing on My Own,” the Phillies are forced to look towards next season where they have some big off-season decisions looming.
The main topic of conversation will be the team’s upcoming free agents, pitcher Aaron Nola and first baseman Rhys Hoskins.
Though their futures remain uncertain, the Phillies are determined to regroup and prepare for seasons to come. The Phillies still have their mainstays under contract for next season including Harper, Wheeler, Turner, Schwarber, Realmuto and Castellanos. The youngsters are coming back as well. But there will inevitably be changes and Phillies fans eagerly await the reshaped roster.
Philly fans are no stranger to heartbreak and the painful reality of disappointment, but even with another punch to the gut, they continue to find joy in the journey and hope that just maybe, next year will be the year the Phillies bring home the coveted Commissioner’s Trophy.