If you watch this Phillies team night in and night out, you come away with two definitive conclusions.
First, Aaron Nola is an ace. Much like Steve Carlton, Curt Schilling, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay before him. There is utter confidence every fifth day that he will pitch a gem and it’s very likely the Phillies will win when he pitches.
Second, Rhys Hoskins is a build-your-lineup-around type of centerpiece. He is must-watch when he steps to the plate.
Beyond that, there are several pieces that you feel really good about going forward. Namely, Seranthony Dominguez, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Zach Eflin and Edubray Ramos. There are others that you see the potential in, but may not quite be there yet: Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta.
What’s tougher to define is how exactly this flawed team has remained in first or close to the top of the division standings for the better part of the last couple of months. One that is on pace to win 90 games.
The Phillies don’t hit particularly well. No regular is batting .280 or higher. They are a flat-out bad defensive team. They're third in the majors in errors. Some of that is attributable to youth, some to players playing out of position. But they commit far too many fielding mistakes, both physical and mental. Their high-priced free-agent starting pitching signee Jake Arrieta has been just OK, far from Cy Young-ish. The bullpen, which has been excellent of late, still has its share of question marks and undefined roles.
There are nights when you ask yourself how are they doing this?
Their success lies in a team that has the clutch gene. The Phillies are 20-9 in one-run games, best in all of baseball, and 7-3 in extra innings. At times, it may not be pretty innings one through seven, but rare is a night when they go down without a fight. Fourteen of Hoskins' 18 home runs this season have tied or given the Phillies a lead. Give credit to Gabe Kapler for instilling the confidence in the youngest team in baseball to never think it is out of it. That trait can go a long way.
The starting pitching overall has been excellent and, really, the catalyst for the Phillies' pre-All Star break success. Nola has been brilliant, Eflin has gone from borderline fifth starter to a top-of-the-rotation guy. Velasquez appears to have finally figured out how to be a pitcher, not just a thrower. The much-maligned bullpen has really stepped up. The Phillies also get on base and work deep counts. It may make for long games, but it has been one of the biggest keys to their success.
That said, talent often trumps intangibles, and they lack a bat in the everyday lineup. Further, their bench is as bad as any in baseball. Jesmuel Valentin, Trevor Plouffe, Mitch Walding and Andrew Knapp are not going to cut it.
Matt Klentak owes it to the manager, players and last but not least the fans of this team to get help. The Phillies may be ahead of schedule, but here we are. Manny Machado is gone and there better be a plan B for a bat. A bullpen piece and/or a starter also makes sense. Despite the Phils residing in a less-than-great division, the club’s shortcomings will be hard to overcome as things get closer to September.
Help is needed.