After three days of one-game playoffs, the MLB Division Series will begin tonight. And for the seventh straight year, the baseball postseason will not involve the Phillies. It's been a while since Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels made reaching the playoffs feel normal. Now, it almost feels normal — the way it did in the late '90s — when the Phillies aren't there.
But that could soon change. There was a time this season when the playoffs felt in reach. And the team will likely report to spring training with much more favorable odds to reach the playoffs than it did last season. Perhaps the Phillies' playing in the postseason could soon feel normal again.
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So the Phillies season is over, but you still want to watch baseball? Here's a look at the National League playoffs.
Rockies vs. Brewers: This Rockies team ended the season by winning nine of its final 10 games before falling to the Dodgers in a one-game playoff to decide the NL West. That run might remind you of the 2007 buzzsaw that eliminated the Phillies en route to reaching the World Series. The Rockies will be a tough out. Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, and D.J. LeMahieu should create problems for any pitching staff.
But the Brewers are no pushover. Christian Yelich will likely win the National League MVP, and Lorenzo Cain might have been the best free agent signed last winter by a National League team. The Brewers have a deep bullpen with Josh Hader and Corey Knebel. And oh, they are planning to use a bullpen game for Game 1. Imagine how Philadelphia would react if Gabe Kapler announced today that he was using a bullpen game for the opener of a playoff series. This one should be fun.
Braves vs. Dodgers: The Dodgers playoff roster hasn't been released, and it's worth wondering if Chase Utley will be on it. He will retire at the end of the season, and that season should extend at least another round. The Dodgers enter as heavy favorites, as it should be a hard task to go up against Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, and then perhaps Walker Buehler for Game 3. Phillies fans can keep a close eye on Manny Machado, who might fall in love so much with LA that it could be hard to pry him away.
The Braves are in the playoffs a year after losing 90 games. This would have been the Phillies' spot had they not collapsed. A first-round matchup with Utley would have been quite the story.
Sports Illustrated published a report this week that said the Department of Justice is investigating several Major League Baseball franchises for the tactics they use to sign players from Latin America. The Dodgers are at the center of the probe, and Gabe Kapler was the team's director of player development before joining the Phillies. It is unclear if Kapler had any role in signing international free agents.
Speaking of Kapler, he saved perhaps his best for last as he ended his weekly spot on WIP-FM with a fiery exchange with Angelo Cataldi. The radio host is upset with Matt Klentak, Kapler came to the general manager's defense, and then it got deep. "Generating anger for the sake of anger means you end up flat-out wrong," Kapler said, channeling his inner Yoda.
Kapler did mention during the show about the possibility of returning Rhys Hoskins to first base. Hoskins said last week that he would "love" a return to the infield. The Phillies said all season that they want to put their players in the best position to succeed. It is clear that Hoskins' best position to succeed is at first base. The Phillies owe it to him to find a way this offseason to make it happen.
Today: Rockies at Brewers, 5:07 p.m.
Tonight: Braves at Dodgers, 8:37 p.m.
Tomorrow: Indians at Astros, 2:05 p.m.
Tomorrow night: Yankees at Red Sox, 7:32 p.m.
How bad has the Phillies' playoff drought been? The Phillies over the last seven seasons have a combined .464 winning percentage. But if you've been following this team long enough, you know they've been worse.
The Phillies, just as they did this season, completed seven straight seasons without a winning record after 1993. Their winning percentage in those seven seasons was .444. And before 1993, the Phillies played through six losing seasons and a winning percentage of .447. Before the Phillies resurfaced in the late 1970s, they compiled seven straight losing seasons in a .434 losing stretch. It seems that every good stretch of Phillies baseball has been precluded by a long stretch of losing. Could 2018 be the end of yet another long stretch?
Question: I know of the free agent talk about Machado and [Bryce] Harper, but I think they need veteran help for the Phillies pitching. Is there consideration to bring back Hamels or [J.A.] Happ? I think Hamels would love to come back to the Phils and he would bring fans back to the ballpark. Happ is not remembered as fondly but is still a good pitcher. Any thoughts on these two pitchers or any other pitching help that is needed? — Bernard H., email
Answer: Thanks, Bernard. I agree that there is definitely more for the Phillies to address this winter than just Harper and Machado. The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that Hamels is "likely to return" to the Cubs, who would have to pick up his $20 million option. Hamels pitched well enough this summer that it could be worth it.