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October 19, 2022 5 min read

The Phillies surprised pretty much everyone by beating the NL Central Division Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card round. Then they had pretty much everyone believing by the time they beat the defending World Series Champion Braves in the NLDS. This is the same Phillies team that limped into the postseason, losing 13 of 20 to end the regular season. They squeaked in as winners of the third wild card spot, so not much was expected of the Fightins, except from the Fightins themselves.

Conversely, the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies went 17-8 in September en route to winning their second straight NL East Division title. For that team, it was clear they had something special brewing at the end of the season.  Their momentum only increased once they got into the postseason. 

It seems worthwhile to do a deeper dive in comparing the ’08 and ’22 Phillies.  Let’s start with the genesis of the two teams.

When ’08 Phillies won, they did so with a core group of home-grown talent. Pat Burrell (’98), Brett Myers (’99), Chase Utley (’00), and Cole Hamels (’02) were all first-round selections. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard were drafted in the 2nd and 5th rounds, respectively. Carlos Ruiz signed with the Phillies for $8,000 as an amateur free agent in 1998.

Meanwhile, several other players of significance on the Championship team were plucked off the scrap heap; Matt Stairs, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Greg Dobbs. Stairs was picked up via trade after being designated for assignment by the Blue Jays. Werth was signed to a one-year, $865,000 deal after being non-tendered by the Dodgers following the 2006 season. Victorino was selected from the Dodgers the in the 2008 Rule 5 draft. Dobbs was claimed off waivers from the Seattle Mariners in 2007.

This ‘22 team has plenty of home-grown talent, but Phillies fans just aren’t as familiar with them as they were the ’08 team. Aaron Nola was selected 7th overall by the Phillies in 2014, the first Phillies first-rounder to get to the postseason since Cole Hamels. That’s a 12-year drought. Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott also were first-rounders in back-to-back years: Bohm in 2018, Stott in 2019. Rhys Hoskins, Matt Vierling, Ranger Suarez, Bailey Falter, Seranthony Dominguez and Connor Brogdon round out the home-grown players on this Phillies club.

Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and Zack Wheeler all were key free-agent signings, while Jean Segura and Brandon Marsh came to Philly via trade.

What’s similar and what’s different:

Similar -The ’08 team had a lasting love affair with the City of Philadelphia. The ’22 team is in the honeymoon phase and fans are taking to them like lovesick teenagers. The ’08 team was made up of a group of guys who wanted to be there, which was refreshing after guys like Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling went in search of something better (and found it, btw). The Phillies are once again a destination team, thanks to the signing of Bryce Harper in 2019. If you love Philly as a player, the fans will love you back. It’s a simple concept.

Similar -The postseason is far from over, but so far the ’22 team is doing exactly what the ’08 team did, surprising us. Not surprising with the wins themselves, but with who’s stepping up, which is everyone. In ’08, even the most unlikely of players made a difference. Take Eric Bruntlett, for instance. The other guy in the trade that brought Brad Lidge to Philly from Houston, Bruntlett scored the game-winning runs in Games 3 and 5 of the ’08 World Series. Or how about Joe Blanton? That’s starting pitcher Joe Blanton. While starting game four of the World Series, he also contributed by hitting one of the team’s four homers in the game.

This year’s team has shown a balanced attack so far, as well. Jean Segura, the guy who went 1,328 big-league games before playing in a playoff game (no active player had waited longer), set off a ninth inning flurry in the first Wild Card game against the Cardinals. The six-run inning led to the first of two wins against the Cards and helped set the tone for what’s happened so far this postseason. Brandon Marsh, the young center fielder who was picked up in a trade from the Angels mid-season, set the tone in Game 4 of the NLDS against the defending champion Braves. Marsh crushed a three-run home run to right-center out of the nine hole and the Phillies never looked back, advancing to the NLCS.

Different -Pitching depth was a strength for the ’08 Phillies. The Phillies had a four-man rotation that consisted of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. With varying amounts of experience, the four starters gave the team stability and then some going into the ’08 postseason. The ’22 Phillies have two starters they can truly rely on. Fortunately, they’re two of the best in the game right now, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Beyond those two, it’s a bit of a crap shoot, but so far it’s worked.

The ’08 bullpen was arguably the most dominant in all of baseball. The front end of the bullpen, when you needed them, included Clay Condrey and Rudy Seanez. In the middle innings, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero could be relied upon. Then there was the back end. No better one-two punch in the game than set up man, the bridge to Lidge, Ryan Madsen, and of course closer Brad Lidge. Of the seven relivers, the highest ERA belonged to Seanez at 3.53. Lidge and Eyre were both under 2.00. Lidge was the centerpiece of this stellar group. Not only did he wow everyone by going 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season, “Lights Out” Lidge was perfect in the postseason as well. He closed out the final World Series game against Tampa and dropped to his knees, finishing 48-for-48 that year. A truly remarkable feat. 

The ’22 bullpen leaves much to be desired. They finished the regular season ranked 23rd (out of 30 teams) in ERA at 4.27. None of the teams below them came even close to making the playoffs. They’ve improved in the postseason with a sub-4 ERA, but of the four teams remaining, the other three have a bullpen ERA of 2.70 or lower, and Houston’s is a miniscule 0.44.

As the saying goes, pitching and defense win ballgames. The Phillies had both in ’08 and they’ve had both so far this year. They’ve also had timely hitting, and they bring an energy to the field that is unparalleled right now. But make no mistake, they’re underdogs. Nobody picked them to win. The only people who believed in the ’22 Phillies were the Phillies themselves, and now that they are actually winning, the bandwagon is filling up fast. Like the great ‘80 Phillies closer Tug McGraw once said, “You gotta believe!” No doubt this team does.