So here we are.
The Phillies are 15-9 and 14-5 in their last 19. They’ve been winning in different ways both on offense (4.875 runs per game) and on the mound (3.55 FIP, 18 home runs against in 24 games, all starters not named Ben Lively with a FIP under 3.44). Whether it was expected or not, this great start has allowed the Phillies to put themselves in position to be competitive throughout the season.
It’s not unprecedented for a bad team to have a hot start. Just two years ago the 2016 Phillies that finished 71-91 started the season 24-17 and ever-so-briefly sat in first place in mid-May. But there were regression warning signs all around, and the team went 47-74 the rest of the way and were never serious contenders.
But this feels like a different Phillies team than the one that gave Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel and and Peter Bourjos more than 800 plate appearances between them. Every player in the Phillies starting lineup would at least have a bench spot on just about every other team in the league, Rhys Hoskins is a star in the making, Nick Pivetta could be a very good find and the Aaron Nola-Jake Arrieta combo could be special. There are definitely more expectations on this Phillies team, which has shaken off an ugly 1-4 start.
So are you believing yet? You’re probably not, and you wouldn’t be alone in that camp. Fans are still jaded by the last five years of losing, are leery of manager Gabe Kapler and his more Sabermetric approach than we’ve ever seen in this city, and are still being introduced to this young bunch of Phillies. While the more die-hard fans have known about Hoskins, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro for years, casual fans are still learning about these guys (and in some cases not yet liking what they’re seeing).
Here are some things the Phillies could do in the next few weeks to make sure fans are taking them seriously:
Put up a good showing against the Braves
As surprising as the Phillies have been, Arizona has probably been more surprising. They’re hot, and probably a pound or two above the Phillies’ fight class right now. So don’t worry about that series loss.
But now here come the Braves, against whom the Phillies have struggled in two road series, despite having yet to tangle at Citizens Bank Park. We’re still not sure what to make of that season-opening series, but the Braves handled a hot Phillies team two weeks ago. The Braves are adding some potential star power to their lineup – which is leading the league in runs – in Ronald Acuna, the top prospect in baseball. These teams are on about the same level of franchise progression and projection, so it’s time for the Phillies to put up a better fight against their division rivals. If not for now, then it’s to show they won’t be scared of them for years to come when the teams are likely battling for more important prizes.
Beat some good teams
The Phillies are 12-1 against Tampa Bay, Miami, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh (combined 36-61). Despite the Pirates coming in to Philadelphia at 12-6 last week, they were playing over their heads and were ready for some regression. Let’s face it: the Phillies really haven’t been playing many games against good teams. They’re 3-8 against the Diamondbacks, Braves and Mets, who are 46-25 combined. “Beat a good team” is somewhat of a tired cliche because all a team can do is play the schedule they’re presented with and, especially in a 162-game schedule, everything evens out. But it’s a glaring wart on the Phillies’ start to the season. It’s great that they’ve beat up on some of these teams that look like they just aren’t that good, because you have to do that to be successful in any sport. But you can’t help but understand why some people want to see some better competition before they go all-in on what still is an experiment in the making. That shouldn’t be a problem for the next few weeks with dates against the Mets, Nationals, Cardinals and Blue Jays all coming up before Memorial Day.
Play well on the road
Most of this 15-9 record comes courtesy of a 10-3 home record. That’s great, but you can see why people would remain skeptical. With this longest homestand of the season playing out through the weekend, stomping on the Braves in Citizens Bank Park might not be enough to convince people. And the Phillies don’t really have a ton of road games for the next month to prove it – just 12 of their next 31 are on the road before a 10-game West Coast swing (plus the Cubs) starting Memorial Day. Taking advantage of all of these April and May home dates will be crucial to helping them stay close to the wild card come mid-September. But it still might not be enough to make the casual or jilted fan pay close attention, especially if the Sixers make the Eastern Conference Finals and dominate the Philly sports landscape for the next month. Grab some of those road games and at the very least, people are going to start saying “hmmmm.”
What is it going to take for you to start believing in these Phillies?