The Phillies began the year 11 to 2 favorites in most sports books to win the World Series, marking the third year in a row they entered the season as such. Like many folks who visit this site, bettors heavily underestimated the toll injuries, an inconsistent bullpen, and the rapid improvement of at least two divisional rivals would bring upon the team. While the playoffs are out of the question, ESPN gives the Phils just a 1 in 1,000 chance of making them, the Phils have quietly won four out of their last five and nine of fourteen since unloading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino on the afternoon of July 31. The playoffs may be out of reach but there is a number I would like to see the Phillies reach: .500.
For the first time since 2002, the Phillies risk playing sub-.500 ball. At eight games under with 46 to play, a record of 27-19 would be required to get there. And, it may be shocking but, I have no doubt they will get there. Here are some reasons why.
While the Phils’ upcoming schedule does feature 16 games against current division leaders, it also features 21 against teams under-.500, marking one of the easier patches and best opportunity to win games since the beginning of 2012. Combined with the fact that the Nationals may well bury the Braves before the Phils and Nats lock up for six games in nine days in late September/early October and you have a recipe for some wins. There are two more stretches I am looking forward to: rounding out the series with the Marlins and facing the Brewers four times after this and the 12 game stretch from September 7 to the 19. The latter features three at home against the Rockies, three at home against the Marlins, three in Houston, and three in New York. That twelve game stretch could easily be a 10-2 mark with a little bit of luck.
Aces Coming Up Aces
Since Cole Hamels signed his lucrative, long-term extension, he has been brilliant despite opening up the stretch with a stinker in Atlanta: 1.50 ERA, 27 Ks in 30 IP, and throwing 10% of his pitches for swinging strikes. Since returning from the DL, Roy Halladay is morphing back into Roy Halladay, posting a 3.38 ERA, 29 Ks, and a .203 BAA in 32 IP. And while Cliff Lee hasn’t pitched as well as his ace counterparts (3.56 ERA, 32 Ks in 42 IP since the AS break), he has pitched well enough to keep the Phils in the game the night he has pitched. A month and a half filled with Hamels, Halladay, and Lee gives the Phils a puncher’s chance to continue their climb toward .500.
Chase Utley Has Been Very Good
Since returning from the DL, Chase Utley has been walking more and striking out less than he ever has and is on track to post his highest slugging% since 2009. While this may be the maturation of his skill set coming full circle, Utley has seen a decline in batting average. In 40 less plate appearances however, Utley has been three times as valuable as Freddy Galvis (1.5 to 0.5 fWAR according to FanGraphs). That has made a remarkable improvement to the line-up.
For various reasons, I never thought I would ever write that sentence in my life. Yet, here we are and both of these 2012 Phillies are showing great plate discipline (4.9% K rate for Pierre, 7.4% for Brown). While Pierre’s was expected to a degree (5.6% career average), Brown’s undoubtedly was not. Brown has begun to exceed the now-tempered expectations both Phillies fans and the front office have about his success, with a better-than-Hunter-Pence-or-Shane-Victorino-after-the-trades-in-small-samples .277/.370/.344 triple-slash. Meanwhile, Pierre has accidentally earned himself a spot in the everyday line-up for the Phils (.307/.348/.375, 28 SBs). They’re not the best options in the outfield, but they are patient and are making pitchers throw pitches.
The Bullpen Has Stabilized
Jonathan Papelbon has been the anchor everyone has anticipated him to be, but after that? The Phillies had found relatively no stable bullpen pieces.
Enter Michael Schwimer, Jeremy Horst, and Raul Valdes. Schwimer, the big righty from Fairfax, VA, has earned his spot with solid, reliable ‘pen work for much of the season. Schwimer is averaging over a K per IP in his first full season in the ‘Bigs. Horst has been perhaps the Phils’ biggest surprise this year. In 16 IP, Horst has posted 18 Ks and with a WHIP around 1.125. Finally, Valdes has risen from the ashes yet again this season and is in the midst of four straight very solid outings. While Josh Lindblom‘s profile does not match particularly well with Citizen’s Bank Park, he has become the default set-up man for Papelbon, giving the set-up role a measure of consistency for what feels like the first time this year.
With some solid play, and a little luck, the Phils will be able to reach .500 by the end of this year. Playoffs? Let’s talk about that in September.