The Philadelphia Phillies have climbed into first place in the National League East for the first time since mid-May, and have done so in dramatic fashion.
A team that has been frustratingly average for the better part of the 2021 season is now finally giving fans reason to believe they can clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2011.
The optimism swirled at Citizens Bank Park over the weekend as the Phillies swept the New York Mets, who entered the series in first place.
The emotional highlight of the season to this point should remind fans of a triumphant pennant race 14 years ago, when the 2007 Phillies overtook the Mets in a late-season push to earn their first postseason bid since 1993.
Can the incredibly flawed 2021 team replicate the success of a 2007 team that kicked off a remarkable era of Phillies baseball with a memorable pennant race?
What happened to the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies?
The Phillies finished in second place in the NL East in three consecutive seasons from 2004-06. They acquired big-name talent and rose out of the division cellar, but were unable to get over the hump and back into the postseason.
The NL East title in 2007 is now considered the beginning of the golden era of Phillies baseball from 2007-2011. However, our idealized memories of Brett Myers on the mound to close out the clincher on the final day of the season don’t paint the most historically accurate picture.
The majority of the 2007 season led fans to believe the same level of mediocrity from the past few seasons would continue. After the team fell under the .500 mark with a July 19 loss to the San Diego Padres, Jimmy Rollins’ preseason proclamation of the Phillies as “the team to beat” in the NL East looked incredibly hollow.
However, a 9-1 streak over the ensuing 10 games kept them in contention. A month later, a hard-fought sweep against the Mets in late August spurred hope for a fanbase starved for playoff baseball.
Even after the emotional sweep, the Phillies fell back to a seven-game deficit with just 17 games left to play in September. A second sweep of the Mets at Shea Stadium in mid-September and a historical collapse by the Phillies’ archnemesis were necessary even after the fanbase started to believe in the 2007 team late in the summer.
The spectacular performance of NL MVP Rollins and the breakout seasons of young stars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels linger in our memories as the starting point for five consecutive division crowns.
The romanticized memory allows us to conveniently forget that free agent busts Rod Barajas and Wes Helms, signed in the second offseason under general manager Pat Gillick, played significant time for an 89-73 team.
We also ignore the fact that manager Charlie Manuel was forced to trot out rookie Kyle Kendrick in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies. Jamie Moyer, a 44-year-old with a regular-season ERA of 5.01, pitched the decisive Game 3 loss.
The Phillies and their fans partially owe the 2008 World Series to the 2007 division title and initial postseason experience for the core players, but it does not erase the imperfections of a team that barely squeaked into the postseason.
How will the 2021 season end for the Philadelphia Phillies?
The flaws of the 2007 NL East champion team should make fans feel that the comparable goals of this year’s team are attainable.
Hesitance to show confidence in the Phillies is understandable. Their defensive incompetence and unpredictable bullpen have led to heartbreaking defeats throughout the 2021 season. The memories of futility from 2013-2017 and expensively underperforming talent from 2018-20 are difficult to ignore.
First-year president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is only getting started, too. Give him time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the failed rebuild of Dombrowski’s predecessors didn’t give him a lot to work with coming in. In his second season as the Tigers GM in 2003, they lost 119 games. Three years later, they won the pennant. He also drafted future stars, including Justin Verlander, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Castellanos.
The Phillies are in first place and had an eight-game winning streak before a rain-delayed series opener loss to the Dodgers stalled their momentum. They just completed a three-game sweep of the hated Mets in front of some of the largest crowds at Citizens Bank Park this season.
Roy Halladay’s number was retired on a day when NL Cy Young-favorite Zack Wheeler did his best Doc impersonation with a dominant complete-game shutout. Bryce Harper is hitting as well as he ever has in a Phillies uniform, and there is legitimate reason to believe he’ll be the first member of the Phillies to win the NL MVP since Rollins in 2007.
The red-hot Phillies are finally providing their fans with the type of excitement that allows them to forget all in-game analysis and the imperfections of their team and just enjoy the action of a wild pennant race.
And if this season is like 2007, then maybe 2022 will be like 2008.
Phillies continue to show support for prospect Daniel Brito, who collapsed during a Triple-A game on July 31 and remains in the ICU after two surgeries.