When the playoffs began last season, a lot of people would have bet that a team from the NL East would represent the National League in the World Series, but no one was picking the Phillies.
The Braves and Mets finished the 2022 season at a dead-heat with an identical 101-61 record. The Braves earned the tiebreaker by beating the Mets for the season series at the end of the season and were the clear-favorites to win it all. Just like they are this season.
Having squeaked in as the final Wild Card team, the Phillies were the underdogs, but they swept the Cardinals in the Wild Card round and took down the mighty Braves in the NLDS.
The Mets meanwhile were upset at home by the San Diego Padres, who went on to lose the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. In doing so, Philly ended a World Series drought of over a decade.
Philadelphia owned the NL East for a period of time back in the late 2000s. They took advantage of a pair of Mets collapses in 2007 and 2008 to earn their first two of five-consecutive NL East title. That run included back-to-back World Series appearances in 2008 and 2009, with the team winning one title in 08′.
From 2011 through 2021, the Phillies missed the playoffs in 10-straight seasons, never finishing above third place until 2021, when they placed second in the NL East with a 82-80 record.
With the addition of a third Wild Card, the Phillies finally made the playoffs last season and took full advantage in their magical ride to the World Series. The Phillies came up two wins short of their third World Series title in franchise history, but now will presumably get another crack at it in 2023.
The Phillies are sitting five games up in the NL Wild Card race with eight games left to play. Meanwhile the Mets went from preseason favorites to out of the playoff race entirely in this disaster of a season.
If we take a look at the last five seasons for each of these clubs, the Phillies and Mets have been intertwined as two franchises in the same division that have attempted to win-now without great help coming their way through their farm system.
While the Mets have invested more resources overall, it is the Phillies that have come out victorious over the last 13 months. What allowed that to happen and how will things play out in the future?
That is what we will aim to find out in this exercise.
The Signing of Bryce Harper
We begin our timeline with the signing of Bryce Harper ahead of the 2019 season.
The first domino to fall for the Phillies current window of contention was getting Harper to sign a 13-year, $330 million deal. In doing so, the Phillies landed a future Hall of Famer who has been at the center of all of their success over the past two seasons.
In 2021, Harper won the NL MVP for the second time in his career and his first with the Phillies. Last season, Harper won the NLCS MVP for his work powering Philly to the Midsummer Classic.
Back in 2019, the New York Mets were still owned by the Wilpon family and did not even get in on the bidding for either Harper or for fellow free agent Manny Machado. If Steve Cohen purchased the team by then, there is no doubt the Mets would have been in the market to add one of those superstar talents.
Instead, when Cohen took over the Mets prior to the 2021 season, they traded for and extended Francisco Lindor to a 10-year, $341 million deal. Only time well tell which franchise player will be better over the life of their decade-long contracts, but the early results favor the Phillies with Harper.
Mets Trade for Diaz/Phillies Trade for Realmuto
In the same offseason where the Phillies signed Harper, they also made a trade to acquire catcher J.T. Realmuto. Again under different ownership, the Wilpon-led Mets made a trade with the Seattle Mariners to acquire Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano.
Cano was previously represented by Brodie Van Wagenen, a former agent who took over as the Mets GM that winter and made acquiring his old client one of his primary operatives. Diaz has worked out for the Mets, but Cano’s contract was a disaster, which they won’t get out from under entirely until next season.
Meanwhile Realmuto has continuously performed as a top-three catcher in baseball, who had an unbelievable season last year in the Phillies run towards a World Series.
Fleecing of Zack Wheeler
This is where the entanglement of these two teams gets really interesting.
The New York Mets narrowly missed the playoff in 2019, finishing third in the NL East with a 86-76 record. If the current playoff format was in place, the Mets would have been the third Wild Card team. Instead they were on the outside looking in as the Nationals and Braves each made the playoffs instead.
Harper had to watch his former team, the Nationals, win the World Series that season. But in the winter, the Phillies took their next biggest step towards becoming true contenders themselves. They signed Zack Wheeler to headline their rotation with Aaron Nola.
Wheeler had been great down the stretch for the Mets in 2019, pitching to a 2.83 ERA across 12 starts in the second half. The Mets tendered Wheeler a qualifying offer but made no real attempt to re-sign him, despite Wheeler’s desire to stay in the Northeast where his wife is from.
This ultimately led the Phillies to get in the mix and win the bidding for Wheeler, signing him to a five-year, $118 million contract. Wheeler has gone on to become one of the best starting pitchers in baseball with the Phillies, as he has led the league in fWAR (18.8) over the last four seasons.
Across 99 starts, Wheeler has pitched to a 3.06 ERA in a Phillies uniform. In six playoff starts last season, Wheeler pitched to a 2.78 ERA, and was a huge reason for their run to the World Series.
Signing of Kyle Schwarber
Another moment of time where these two franchises intersect was with the Phillies signing of Kyle Schwarber prior to the 2022 season. The New York Mets were never in the bidding for Schwarber, but in retrospect, they should have been.
Instead, the Mets went into the 2022 season hoping to get something out of their investment in Robinson Cano, who was coming off a PED suspension. The Mets did not want to sign a DH-type with Cano in the fold, particularly on another expensive contract.
Cano played 12 games with the Mets in 2022 and posted just a .501 OPS before he was DFA’d. Thus began a revolving door of hitters who have tried to fill the DH role for the New York Mets, none of which have been able to provide much value.
Meanwhile, Schwarber has hit 91 home runs over the last two seasons with the Phillies. Signed to a four-year, $79 million deal, Schwarber will continue to provide consistent power to the Phillies lineup in this window for contention.
Along with Schwarber, the Phillies signed Nick Castellanos to a five-year, $100 million deal, which has gone far better in year two. After a rough first year in Philadelphia, Castellanos has bounced back to hit 28 home runs and drive in over 100 runs this season.
This past offseason, Trea Turner was signed to become the final piece of the puzzle for the Phillies. Similar to Castellanos, Turner’s start in Philly wasn’t great, but he has been able to return to form midseason and now has 26 home runs and 28 stolen bases.
With Harper, Realmuto, Schwarber, Castellanos and Turner, the Phillies have a veteran-laden roster that can make another run come October, and for years to come.
Young Pieces That Have Delivered
The thing that has taken the Phillies to the next level over the last few years is the ascension of a few of their young players who have become solid regulars.
Bryson Stott is currently leading the Phillies in fWAR at 3.8. He is hitting .282/.331/.424, with 15 home runs and 29 stolen bases, while playing great defense at second base. Over at third base, Alec Bohm is hitting .278/.334/.438, with 18 home runs and a 108 wRC+. He has also cut his K% from 26.6% in 2021 down to 17.4% last year and 15.7% in 2023.
At last year’s trade deadline, the Phillies made a huge move by sending then-top prospect Logan O’Hoppe to the Los Angeles Angels for center fielder Brandon Marsh. The 25-year-old has experienced a breakout season in his first full season with the Phillies, as he has clearly become the center fielder of the future for the Phillies.
This season, Marsh is hitting .279/.375/.449, with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases and a 124 wRC+.
The Phillies have one of the deepest and most talented lineups in baseball and this core they have assembled will be together for years to come.
Who Has the Brighter Future
When looking at the Phillies starting lineup, Realmuto and Schwarber are under contract through 2025, Castellanos through 2026, while Harper and Turner will be in Philadelphia for another decade. Alec Bohm will hit arbitration next season, but Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh are still going to be pre-arb next year. Bottom line, this team is not going anywhere.
The Phillies do have more questions when it comes to their pitching staff, as Aaron Nola will be a free agent after this season and Zack Wheeler will be after 2024.
Still, they can continue to replenish their rotation via free agency, and some of their top prospects are pitchers, such as Andrew Painter, Mick Abel and Griff McGarry, although Painter did undergo Tommy John surgery in July.
Philadelphia’s farm system was just ranked by Bleacher Report as the 19th-best in baseball. Last month, Baseball America ranked the Phillies at 23rd. Thanks to their deadline sell-off, the New York Mets were ranked fourth by Bleacher Report and 14th by Baseball America.
The Mets currently have at least three top-100 talents in Double-A, with Luisangel Acuna, Drew Gilbert and Jett Williams, all of which could join the big league roster by 2025. This season, the Mets graduated Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Mark Vientos, and Ronny Mauricio is now up with the big league club as well.
Alvarez is the one rookie who has fully established himself this year, leading all NL catchers with his 23 home runs, but Baty, Vientos and Mauricio have each flashed some potential as well, particularly over this past month.
With incumbent veterans, Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil signed to long-term deals, combined with this year’s rookie class and the other young studs on the way, the Mets future is very bright. The only question is if Pete Alonso will be along for the ride, as he is set to hit free agency after next season and has yet to come to terms with the team on an extension.
The Mets just hired David Stearns to be their new president of baseball operations, giving them one of the most highly-regarded executives in the game. Armed with a better farm and limitless resources from team owner Steve Cohen, there is every chance that Stearns will turn the Mets into a legitimate force in the National League East.
At the same time, it is clear that the Mets not only have to catch up with the perennial favorite Atlanta Braves, but also have to catch up to the Philadelphia Phillies, who have cut the line over the last few years to become a perennial contender in their own right.