On Sept. 24, 2019, the Nationals beat the Phillies in both games of a doubleheader in D.C. to eliminate them from playoff contention as part of a five-game sweep.
On Sept. 22, 2020, the Nationals beat the Phillies in both games of a doubleheader in D.C. to knock them out of a playoff spot as part of what they hope will be a four-game sweep.
The stakes were much different for Washington in 2019, when they stayed on the field after Game 2 of that doubleheader to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs and secure the Nationals a playoff berth they would eventually use to make a World Series run. This season, they hold slim playoff hopes but more than likely will be on the outside looking in at the postseason come October.
For Philadelphia, however, the ramifications are just as severe. The Phillies were in playoff contention for most of the 2019 season but a poor second half had them on the brink of being eliminated by the time the Nationals finished them off.
The Phillies went into their series against Washington this week holding the eighth spot of the NL playoff bracket and sitting four games back of the Atlanta Braves for the division title. Now, they trail both the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds with the chance for the San Francisco Giants to leapfrog them with a late-night game. The Braves have clinched the NL East for the third-straight year.
Phillies fans and analysts are irate, and deservedly so. The team is 27-29 and in danger of missing the playoffs for the ninth straight season—a stretch that has also seen them fail to finish above .500 every year. To make matters worse, Spotrac pins the Phillies’ payroll as the sixth-highest in baseball.
Fans were upset last year, too, especially after the front office went out and put together an offseason that saw them acquire Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen, among others. The team fired manager Gabe Kapler (now with San Francisco) and brought in an entirely new coaching staff under accomplished skipper Joe Girardi.
The Phillies could’ve been excused for missing the playoffs in their first year with their roster fully put together. A lengthy rebuild had provided only a handful of payers who could contribute at the major-league level, so they needed free agency and trades to fill the holes they couldn’t from within their organization. But in Year 2 of the Harper Era—and in what could be Realmuto’s final year in Philadelphia—expectations were much higher.
There’s still time for the Phillies to turn their season around, though they first have an obstacle to clear: one final game against the Nationals. If history is any indication, that’s going to be a tall task for this Phillies team that still has yet to play up to expectations.