Baseball is unlike any other sport. It's not just a way to pass the time, but rather an investment. Spring training until the end of the World Series encompasses about ten months. It's not just the duration of the season but the fact that our teams play almost every day. For fans like us, the end of one game typically begets excitement for the next.
The emotional involvement of being a passionate, diehard baseball fan is unmatched.
This is what makes the Phillies’ abrupt exit from the postseason that much more difficult to bear. Losing in the 2022 World Series made fans hungry for more. Spring training could not arrive fast enough for many. After all, there were so many storylines from the offseason that made the new Phillies’ team even more intriguing than its predecessor.
Now that a few days have passed, and Phillies’ fans have had to watch the Fall Classic sans their club — or have boycotted it altogether — it feels appropriate to revisit the ups and downs that made up the 2023 season. As the adage goes, give us the bad news first.
It didn't take long for bad news to infiltrate its way into the headlines. During spring training, top prospect Andrew Painter injured his throwing elbow. After months of rehab and hoping for the best, it was determined that Tommy John surgery was in the talented 20-year-old's best interest. He will miss the entire 2024 season.
Some minor injuries began to emerge heading into the World Baseball Classic. The newly signed Taijuan Walker was forced to miss the international tournament, and rotation mate Ranger Suárez suffered the same fate. Both players were able to pitch for the club, but Suárez would miss some regular season time.
At the end of spring training, first baseman Rhys Hoskins tore his ACL and would go on to miss what could have been his final season in red pinstripes.
While the injuries piled up, the club scuffled out of the gate. By the end of May, the Phillies were five games below .500. That's when the good finally began to show up.
One early positive was that Bryce Harper made an improbable early return from offseason Tommy John surgery to re-enter the Phillies lineup prior to the end of May. By June, the club started to turn the corner. The Phillies won 18 games that month, including a sweep of the Oakland Athletics and the Chicago Cubs. In the remaining months, the Phillies went 46-34 and were on their way to another postseason.
The bats really began to heat up in August as Trea Turner went on a torrid hot streak that lasted through much of the postseason.
The postseason started out about as well as anyone could have hoped. The club swept the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card Series and knocked the Atlanta Braves out of contention for the second year in a row. The Arizona Diamondbacks were all that stood in the way of the Phillies and a repeat appearance in the World Series.
Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS made it seem that another National League pennant was in the works. That all changed when the Phillies boarded their flight to Arizona.
Without rehashing too many bad memories and reopening any lingering wounds, the summaries of Games 3-7 will not be mentioned.
The Phillies lost four out of five games and were eliminated from postseason contention. To make matters worse, the Diamondbacks clinched on our turf. All the club had to do was win one game at Citizens Bank Park — a place that offered a significant home-field advantage all postseason long.
Blame can be cast in different directions, but what good does that do? Kyle Schwarber indicated how the club felt after the Game 7 loss, per Matt Gelb of The Athletic.
"It will never feel right," Schwarber said. "It never does. It never will."
The players were disappointed with the season's outcome. So were fans. Without speaking for everyone, it's fair to say that many Phillies fans were not ready to see the season come to an end. It wasn't time yet. The opportunities to win and advance were there, and the Phillies failed to capitalize.
This season’s ending felt different than the last. The expectations were higher, the roster was better, and many players had postseason experience. Heading into the offseason, however, fans can find solace in the fact that next year’s team has a chance to make a deep postseason run once again. The Phillies have entered one of the most exciting eras in club history and certainly the most exciting since the 2007-2011 teams.
The Phillies' early exit will linger over what will now be a longer offseason. The club will not be the same heading into 2024. The fun-loving, energetic and partying team we saw in 2023 missed their chance to live in Philadelphia sports lore forever. While many of the players will be returning, it's inevitable that certain players will leave, and new players will be added.
Let's get to February so pitchers and catchers can report already.