It’s been ten years and Ryan Howard is still the last Phillie to have an at-bat in the postseason. The former face of the Phillies franchise left the organization after the 2016 season at a time when the Phillies were just a couple years away from beginning their next competitive cycle.
The 2021 Phillies playoff hopes just about ended on Wednesday. If the Braves win on Thursday, the Phillies will be officially eliminated from postseason contention for the 10th consecutive season.
Still, Howard believes the current Phillies team is trending in the right direction.
“You’re starting to get back into it to where now you’re in your second to last series of the season and you’re in playoff contention,” Howard said at Truist Park before Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Braves.
“Obviously now, it’s trending in the right direction because now you’re starting to compete. It’s just a matter of getting over the hump.”
Getting over the hump is something the Phillies have failed to do in recent years. They’ve technically been in postseason contention in the final eight days of the year in each the last four seasons, but haven’t been able clinch a berth.
“To me, from watching from a distance, it’s just always been about finishing games,” Howard said.
The Phillies have blown 58 saves since the beginning of the 2020 season. A bad bullpen, poor defensive play and a lack of offense later in games at times has a lot to do with why the Phillies can’t close out games.
For players like Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins, not making the playoffs while having a chance the past four seasons has to take a toll. Howard believes that there has to be a point where the Phillies core group decides enough is enough.
“It’s just gotta be one of those things where it’s gotta be a bad taste in your mouth,” Howard said. “Ultimately, you just get to the point of saying, ‘I’m tired of not making it and just decide that you’re going to make it. Obviously, barring injuries and stuff like that. You can’t control that, but you can have a group to where, again, it’s like you don’t make it. You look out and you say next year or in the offseason or as you get to spring training, ‘Like yo, we’re not letting what happened last year happen again this year.”
For Howard, there was a belief that things would eventually turn around.
“It was like ‘Why not us?’ We know what we are capable of doing. We know who we are,” Howard said. “I think it’s just a matter of that for these guys. It’s just figuring out who they are as a team and who they want to be as a team.”
In Howard’s first three seasons with the Phillies, his team won at least 85 games, but came just short of the postseason. By 2007, the Phillies core infielders of Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins were either 27 or 28 and just entering their prime. The trio was a big reason why the Phillies won five straight division titles, but they had the much needed depth around them to take them to the top.
The Phillies have a core of players that are good enough to compete, but the talent around them has been the bigger issue. They got MVP caliber production out of Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler in 2021, but likely no playoffs to show for it. Adding on to the fact that key players such as Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura are on the wrong side of 30 and it seems as though the Phillies could be running out of time.
“It’s just a matter of everybody else doing their thing as well,” Howard said. “It doesn’t help with Rhys going down. Different guys have to step up. In those situations, guys understanding and wanting to be in those situations as our old manager Charlie Manuel used to say ‘You gotta want to be in that situation. You gotta wanna hit. You gotta wanna make that next play. … It’s just a matter of next man up mentality.”
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