Must win: Expanded playoffs, $627 million in free agents and a deGrom injury must add to the playoffs for the Phillies | Professional

Ryan Howard faced a 2-2 tally with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Phillies lost 1-0 in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series.

Left-handed power hitter Howard hit a break ball into the ground to second base for the third out. The first baseman left the batter’s box, tripped, took a few steps, then collapsed halfway through first base with a torn Achilles tendon.

In many ways, the Phillies never recovered that night.

That loss ended one of the Phillies’ best eras in baseball — a five-year stretch that began in 2007 and produced five consecutive division titles, two World Series appearances and one World Series title.

Since then, the Phillies have gone 10 years without making the playoffs. Only the Seattle Mariners, who last made the playoffs in 2002, have a longer playoff drought.

The Phillies have attempted multiple routes to the playoffs since 2011.

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They tried to piece it back together from 2012 to 2015 in hopes that players such as Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels could get back to the form that made them so good from 2007 to 2011. This strategy produced a record .500 in 2012, losing seasons in 2013 and 2014, and the team hit rock bottom with 63 wins in 2015.

From 2016 to 2020, Philadelphia attempted a classic rebuild under a front office led by general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail. The best this regime has done was an 81-81 record in 2019.

The Phillies then turned to proven winners.

Joe Girardi took over as 2020 manager. Dave Dombrowski became president of baseball operations ahead of the 2021 season. Both seasons the Phillies came close but ultimately missed the playoffs. The 2020 miss has been particularly frustrating as the Phillies have lost seven of their last eight games. With the field expanded to eight NL teams in this COVID-19-shortened season, just one more win would have put the Phillies in the playoffs.

That brings us to this season, which begins at 3:07 p.m. Friday when the Phillies host the Oakland A’s at Citizens Bank Park.

Simply put, the Phillies have almost no choice but to make the playoffs in 2022.

The question is they?

Here’s what’s in Philadelphia’s favour.

First, six teams in each league — the three division winners and the next three teams with the best record — will make the playoffs. Just a side note, if this format was in effect last season, Philadelphia still would have missed the playoffs by one game.

Second, the offseason free agent signings of sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos give the Phillies one of the best rosters in baseball. Schwarber and Castellanos join a roster that already includes high-priced free agent signings in outfielder Bryce Harper and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler.

The Phillies signed Schwarber, Castellanos, Harper and Wheeler to contracts worth a combined $627 million. That has to buy at least a playoff spot? Law?

The Phillies also get a break in the National League East. The New York Mets seemed to be putting together a terrific pitching rotation when they added free agent Max Scherzer to a staff that already included Jacob deGrom. But deGrom is currently out with a shoulder injury and speculation in New York is that he may not pitch at all this season.

The Phillies must take advantage of an expanded playoff field, their free agent signings and deGrom’s injury to qualify for the playoffs.

If they don’t, who knows what the consequences will be. One person likely to be affected is Girardi, who enters the final year of his three-year contract this season as the Phillies have yet to decide on his club option for 2023.

Either way, the 2011 Game 5 loss and Howard’s injury ended this era of Phillies baseball.

It was unacceptable for him to start 10 years of playoff futility.

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