Not a lot of baseball fans are happy this week. Three of the four surviving teams who will compete for the World Series beginning next week are Wild Cards. The one division winner, the Houston Astros, lucked into the title after the two teams the battled for the AL West title, Texas and Seattle, both had late-season meltdowns. Texas was able to salvage the final Wild Card berth and has subsequently gone on a five-game post-season winning streak that belies their regular season struggles.
In the National League, the teams with byes, the Braves and the Dodgers, both saw their vaunted regular season table-setters go cold in their respective diviision series. Both struggled to find effective starting pitching in short series. Both teams, who won at least 100 games this year, are now on the outside looking in.
But fans of the Philadelphia Phillies, indeed, of all Philly sports teams, are ecstatic.
For the second straight year, the Phils’ October magic has eliminated a top-performing Braves team, with the final blow coming last night at what is now being revered as the site with the strongest home-field advantage, Citizens’ Bank Park. Per YAHOO! Sports:
Philadelphia Phillies superstar Bryce Harper might’ve gotten all the credit for leading his team to a win in Game 3 of the NLDS, but Nick Castellanos deserved some recognition for also hitting two home runs in that 10-2 blowout win.
Castellanos made sure he was the story Thursday, clubbing two home runs in the Phillies’ narrow 3-1 win in Game 4 of the NLDS. With the victory, the Phillies advanced to their second consecutive NLCS. This time around, they’ll face the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While both of Castellanos’ home runs made a huge impact — the Phillies won by two runs — he wasn’t solely responsible for the victory. The game could’ve had a drastically different outcome if things had gone the Braves’ way in the seventh inning.
With the bases loaded, Ronald Acuña Jr. came to the plate looking to push his team ahead. After a seven-pitch at-bat that featured Acuña extending the plate appearance with two foul balls, he drove one deep to center field. Phillies outfielder Johan Rojas ran it down, jumping at the last second to make the catch.
Rojas’ catch may not quite have been up to the same level as that made by Michael Harris II in Game 2 to send the Phils down to their one post-season defeat, but it proved to be as impactful in the big picture.
And with Bryce Harper healthy and hot, something that could not have been said in the same sentence earlier this year, who knows if this might finally be time for the Phils to join the Eagles as contenders for a championship? Fresh off their narrow loss to the Chiefs in last February’s Super Bowl, this year’s Birds are 5-0, and have given a new definition to the term Tush Push.
And even the Flyers, who finished 2022-23 next to last in their division, opened their NHL season positively last night as well. Per the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER’s Jeff Neiburg:
It’s been a long time since the Flyers had their full forward firepower available to them. Since 2021, to be exact.
That’s how long Sean Couturier was out, his last game before Thursday night coming on Dec. 18, 2021. Cam Atkinson missed all of last season, too.
It’s hard to look good in a salary cap sport when you’re missing around $13.5 million in allotted salaries in your forward group.
But the Flyers entered this 2023-24 season, the start of a “New Era of Orange,” mostly healthy. Rebuilding, yes, but with a quiet confidence about themselves, too.
The result: a much more complete showing on opening night, and a balanced four lines that all had moments during the team’s 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, where the Flyers were the better team for most of the game.
“Everybody contributed,” Flyers coach John Tortorella said. “Everybody wants people to be part of the game. From where I was last year on the bench to just the first game this year, it’s a fuller bench. There are more people that I can put in situations.
As for the Sixers, well, let’s just say that’s work in progress.
But c’mon, James Harden. You sure you really wanna leave now, with this kind of karma so prevalent?