Phillies eliminate defending World Series champion Braves, advance to National League Championship Series

After a decade-long disappearance in the playoffs, high hopes greeted by so-so results, and a sinking sense that they might look at their division’s league for a while, the Philadelphia Phillies have returned to their once-awaited place: the National League Championship Series.

With perhaps the most intimidating and gritty October environment to spur them on, the Phillies capped a four-game Division Series conquest against the Atlanta Braves with an 8-3 win Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park in what was once again the hottest fall of the year City of brotherly love is destination.

The Phillies, who were only granted a playoff berth because Major League Baseball decided to expand the field and add a third wild card this season, eliminated the defending World Series Braves champion, who went 101 regular-season games against Philadelphia’s 87 won. But the Phillies are now 5-1 in these playoffs, eliminating the Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals and making their way back to starting the NLCS.

Phillies catcher JT Realmuto celebrates his inside-the-park home run in the third inning with designated hitter Bryce Harper.

Phillies catcher JT Realmuto celebrates his inside-the-park home run in the third inning with designated hitter Bryce Harper.

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Game 1 will be held at Petco Park or Dodger Stadium in San Diego depending on the outcome of that NLDS. Ace Zack Wheeler is poised to start Philadelphia’s first NLCS game since 2010 when the San Francisco Giants defeated them in Game 6 and passed one mini-dynasty to another.

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This time around, the Phillies defeated five-time NL East Champion Braves, a result that will have immediate and long-term ramifications. A look at three food stalls from Game 4’s clincher:

The stars are finally shining

We’ve cited that stat many times, but now it really resonates: Since 2019, the Phillies have spent $742.5 million on five players, a binge that began with three seasons of oh-so-close frustration, only to finally see this season to achieve results.

And Philly’s playoff run and the Braves’ dismantling made all their stars shine.

Bryce Harper started the binge, his 13-year, $330 million deal in 2019 that restored Philadelphia as a travel destination. His homer netted a loss to St. Louis in the wild card round in Game 2 and he helped out in Game 4 on Saturday with a nifty single tackle and home run in the eighth inning.

JT Realmuto continued, his trade from Miami got Harper’s wish and his $115.5 million overtime kept him in Philadelphia in what could be a golden era. In Game 4, he electrified Citizens Bank Park and made history with a rousing home run in the park, the first in playoff history by a catcher.

Earning a five-year, $118 million contract ahead of the 2020 season, Zack Wheeler set the tone by silencing the Cardinals in the playoff opener. He threw five shutout innings in NLDS Game 2 before Atlanta defeated him.

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Yet the Phillies couldn’t do better than 82-80 until this winter, when owner John Middleton roared out of the 99-day ban and guaranteed $79 million to Kyle Schwarber and $100 million to Nick Castellanos.

While Schwarber hit 46 home runs, they both had their regular season fights. But Castellanos brought in a season’s worth in Game 1 in Atlanta, with three goals and a great defensive play. Schwarber has suffered through a 1-for-20 postseason so far, but its mere existence sparked a deliberate walk in Friday’s Game 3 that preceded Rhys Hoskins’ series-spinning, bat-poking three-run bombshell.

The lesson? The value will eventually be returned, even if you have to wait a minute for it.

Braves: Shorted Dynasty?

There’s no denying that GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager Brian Snitker set a stellar standard at Atlanta: They’ve won five straight division titles, a World Series and back-to-back NLCS appearances.

That things have been going sideways in this NLDS – starting with ace Max Fried’s brief outing due to illness in Game 1 – isn’t going to change that.

The $662 million in contract extensions granted to Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider are almost enough to ensure long-term greatness. Still, the Braves will be faced with immediate questions, most notably whether to enter the sweepstakes for shortstop Dansby Swanson, who is set to easily break the nine-figure mark in free hands this winter.

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If negotiations for former franchise pillar Freddie Freeman are any indication, Atlanta will be looking for a shortstop.

“I love this guy, just what he brings, consistency,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said of Swanson after Game 4. “I’ve never seen a player want to win more than he does. And like I said, hopefully I can meet up with him again, we’ll see.

Star closer Kenley Jansen will also be a free agent and it will be interesting to see how high company owner Liberty Media is willing to extend what will already be a club record payroll.

Still, there’s no denying that a huge opportunity – 101 wins, a playoff No. 2, plenty of confidence – slipped past them this week.

Philly especially?

How high can these Phillies fly?

They’ll definitely be tested in a best-of-seven series that lessens the influence of aces Wheeler and Aaron Nola and pushes weapons like Ranger Suarez and Bailey Falter to the fore.

But their lineup is gelling as it hasn’t been all year. An ad hoc bullpen has established both roles and flexibility beautifully, with Zach Eflin, Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez preparing and executing at a high level.

The Dodgers and Padres put on a cross-country test. The Astros would be a daunting World Series opponent. But the club’s first world title since 2008 is within reach.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Phillies Eliminate Braves 8-3, Advance to NLCS


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