As teams go through rebuilds and overhaul their roster with young prospects, they can be hard to evaluate at certain stops along the way. If a young and unproven team gets off to a decent start in the first month of a season, when and how do you know they are for real?
The Phillies are kind of there right now. They blew up their formerly great roster by trading Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins. Now they are led by youngsters like Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez.
And, though they may not be built for sustained success quite yet, they are 11-10 after 21 games. With their 3-0 win on Wednesday, they are 3-2 in five matchups with the Nationals, a 14-6 team many picked to win the NL East. On Thursday, the Phillies will aim for a series sweep.
The odds of the Phillies keeping pace with the Nats for all of this season seem slim, but there's no question they have proven to be worthy competitors in the season's first month. The Nationals have taken notice.
"These guys are starting to think that they are pretty good, and they should because they've got good talent," manager Dusty Baker said.
"I talked to my former general manager Andy McPhail, who I liked quite a bit when I was with the Cubs, and he told me they have some talent down there in the minor leagues. When you lose some free agents, through the draft and through trades, when you dismantle a great team like they had, and when your scouting system is doing pretty good at their jobs, then you're going to come out with everybody's best talent that they drafted ahead of you."
Second baseman Daniel Murphy has seen the Phillies up close over the last few years in the NL East having played for the Mets and now the Nationals. He sees a team on the rise.
"It's a pretty good ballclub over there," he said. "They've come in here and beat us twice. They've got really good veteran leadership with [Carlos Ruiz] behind the plate and Ryan Howard at first base. The guys at the top of the lineup, they grind out at bats, they put the ball in play, they keep pressure on the defense. They've played well here the first two games and kind of put us in a tough spot."
The Phillies have been a nice surprise so far at one game above .500. They sit third in the NL East. The stats, though, tell another story. They have the MLB's lowest scoring offense and a -22 run differential. Things will even out sooner than later, but the Phillies don't appear to be the doormat they used to be.
"They're pretty tough right now, but we've got a long way to go," Baker said.