As we sit here 10 days into July on the cusp of the All-Star break, the Phillies are tied for first place in the NL East, sporting a 50-39 record. That’s pretty damn impressive considering most viewed them as .500 team. Keep in mind this is a club led by a first-year manager and a roster that is the youngest in baseball and aside from Aaron Nola, does not have a superstar or even an All-Star.
Dive a little deeper and you’ll see a lineup without anyone hitting above .276. A former Cy Young award winner in Jake Arrieta, who signed a three-year, $75 million deal in the offseason, with a 6-6 record and a 3.47 ERA. Not bad, but far from great. A bullpen without a designated closer; last year’s man who got the ball in that spot is residing in Lehigh Valley. The club’s high-priced relief signees, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, have either been out hurt or grossly underachieved.
So how are they doing this?
Let’s start with the top of the rotation. The aforementioned Nola has been spectacular. A valid argument could be made that he’s the best pitcher in baseball. He’s 12-2 with a 2.27 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. He has been dominant. And he’s only 25.
Zach Eflin, finally healthy, is a different pitcher. His stuff is better now that his knees work, but it’s his approach that has really stood out. He is now an attacker rather than a nibbler. If the reports are true that he was untouchable in a Manny Machado deal, he has come a long way the last few months from fringe rotation guy to must-keep.
The bullpen, much maligned and deservedly so, has been much better of late. Gabe Kapler’s best arm, Seranthony Dominguez, has been deployed in the highest of leverage situations — against the other team’s best hitters, whether it’s the seventh, eighth or ninth, multiple innings, whatever’s needed. This is partly by design, mostly by necessity. The 'pen needs one or two more arms and Hunter and Neshek need to start earning their money.
Offensively, while the batting averages are far from impressive, this team thrives off of getting on base and walking. There’s no better example than Carlos Santana, who’s hitting .219, but his on-base percentage is .365 and he’s walked 72 times, good for third in baseball. But their team numbers overall at the plate are just OK. They're 18th in runs, 17th in home runs and 15th in RBIs.
But there is something to be said for the clutch gene, and this team appears to have it. It is 19-8 in one-run games and 6-2 in extra-inning contests. Kapler deserves a lot of credit for the start. The clubhouse is loose, he’s made far more right calls than wrong whether it’s analytics or gut. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz has been a major upgrade from Bob McClure last year.
The trade deadline could bring some reinforcements, but the question is, can the Phillies sustain this with some of the obvious shortcomings and statistical anomalies?
What we do know is they have overachieved thus far and considering the schedule, should head into the All-Star break on a high note.