The Phillies are riding high for the moment, fresh off a three-game sweep of the division-rival Mets.
While an 8-9 start to the season isn’t optimal, it could certainly have been worse. And there are several reasons to think this team has a genuine chance to get to the playoffs at the end of the 60-game season.
Let’s start at the top of the rotation. After a 2019 season that wasn’t up to his, or anyone’s expectations, Nola has started 2020 on fire. Three straight starts allowing three or fewer hits and eight or more strikeouts. No Phillies pitcher has had a streak like that since 1893, when the pitcher’s mound was only 50 feet from home plate. If he continues to dominate at this level, not only could the Phillies ride Nola to the postseason, but he could help them be a real problem once they get there.
Fans call him BCIB – Best Catcher In Baseball – and he’s certainly looking the part at the plate thus far. He’s leading all MLB catchers in runs, homers and RBI, despite the fact that the Phillies have played fewer games than all but two MLB teams. He’s also tops in slugging percentage (.717) and OPS (1.071), and throwing out 50% of potential base-stealers.
As good as an offensive season Realmuto has had thus far, it’s arguably not the best on the team. That may belong to the $330 Million Man, Bryce Harper. He has reached base in every game this season, and leads all of baseball with a .493 on-base percentage. Throw in 17 runs scored in 17 games, and an OPS that ranks 2nd in MLB (1.165), and the 3-4 spots in the lineup are as solid as they’ve been since the Utley/Howard heyday.
Getting on base
Realmuto and Harper aren’t the only ones fueling the offense. The team as a whole is getting on base with remarkable efficiency. The Phillies have a .343 team OBP, good enough for 3rd in all of baseball. They’re also not striking out. Their 18.7 strikeout percentage is tops in the game to this point. Put the bat on the ball, good things happen, like….
Digging the long ball
Led by Realmuto’s eight dingers, the Phillies have 25 as a team already, which works out to nearly 1.5 per game. That’s a 10% increase over their HR/G rate from last season. This is without Rhys Hoskins hitting even one home run yet, and he’s starting to find a bit of a groove at the plate (.308, 3 doubles in his last 7 games). It’s tough sledding when a team so dependent on the home run doesn’t get any from a power position like first base over this long a span, but Hoskins can get his power stroke back, that’s a truly fearsome trio in the heart of that lineup.
Starting rotation holding up
Including Nola, the starting rotation has been impressive as a whole this season. Its 3.59 collective ERA ranks 8th overall, they’re 3rd in K/BB ratio (4.27), and 8th in K/9 (9.1). It is imperative that the starters carry the mail this season, but even still...
The bullpen can't stay this bad all season
Can they? No, they can’t. Even though their 8.77 ERA is more than TWO RUNS higher than the next-worst team, it has to get better. Manager Joe Girardi will put certain guys in roles that they can handle, and if they can’t, the onus is on Matt Klentak to find players who can handle it. Honestly, the fact that the team is near .500 with the bullpen pitching this poorly to this point is a marvel.
A bigger playoff party
Lest you forget, each league will send not five, but eight teams to the postseason this season. Right now, with that shaky bullpen, with Hoskins only now starting to hit, the Phillies are the 9-seed in the National League, and just two games out of first in the division. With 43 games left to play (if they play them all), they’re one hot week from being right in the thick of the postseason. And once the playoffs start, throw the records, logic, and everything else out the window.