For the majority of April, the Phillies’ success was called a surprise by many. Now, about a week into May, we have seen a glimpse of the potential of this squad. At what point does this team go from stunning group of overachievers to a true competitive club that can win on any given day?
Will it take a .500 or better mark at the All-Star break? Will it take flirting with an 85 win season come September? Personally, I think there is enough evidence in the first 32 games to confidently say that this Phillies team will finish the season with a record of 81-81 or better.
Yes, I am asserting the Phillies will notch a non-losing season for the first time since 2012.
Why they can do it:
Maybe this strength could be more widely classified further as “starting pitching”, but the bullpen’s efforts so far this season cannot go unrecognized. The bullpen has been shaky, with an ERA that ranks 9th in the National League, but has also been a strong point, especially in shutting down opponents in close games.
In the Phillies’ five shutouts this season, no starting pitcher has gone past the 7th inning, save for Vince Velasquez in his nine-inning, 16 strikeout performance in San Diego. In those other games, especially the 1-0 finishes, the bullpen delivered key innings.
Continuing success for closer Jeanmar Gomez, the emerging Hector Neris and company will be key to delivering wins that the Phillies might have been unable to lock down last season.
This is not to understate the importance of the starting pitching. Phillies’ starters this season have made it look easy, delivering a 3.74 ERA, good for 6th in the league, along with a .229 batting average against that sits at 3rd best in the league.
The pitching staff has already proven that they can pitch with the best that the NL East has to offer, but proving this over the course of an entire season will be the determining factor as to whether or not this team stays in the win column and I am confident that they can do it.
Now that the lineup has come together, the trio at the top have shown an ability to hit and get on base. If one of Odubel Herrera, who ranks 5th in the league in OBP, or Cesar Hernandez, who is batting .324 out of the two hole, is on base, chances are another one of them, or the man that follows, Maikel Franco, the team leader in RBI, is going to be able to deliver a hit to move them into scoring position or score the run outright.
The production of these three at the top of the batting order is not something the Phillies have been able to rely on since the likes of Jimmy Rollins – Jayson Werth – Chase Utley topped the lineup card. This 2016 trio might not yet have the intimidation factor of that 2008 era bunch, but they have the confidence to keep building upon what is already working as they continue to develop.
Look for these guys to pave the road to a winning season with their bats and watch out if any of the Phillies’ decide to supplement those young batters with top hitting prospects like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and the resurgent Tommy Joseph this year.
3. Pete Mackanin
This Phillies team is just different. Different from the last three seasons, to be more precise. It is not only the makeup of the roster, now young and vibrant instead of old and rotting, but the man that writes up the lineup card every day is different too.
Mackanin is not laid back “Uncle Cholly”, because that’s not what this team needs. Mackanin is not the reactionary and thin-skinned Ryne Sandberg, because that’s not what this team needs. Instead, the Phillies are being lead by a coach that empowers them to be themselves.
There is no remaining status quo in which veterans are given preference and starting spots based on prior performance. There is not a divide between the young and old in the dugout. Rather, this team is thriving because the kids are being given a chance to prove themselves with a long leash. The team is free to focus on improving and they are having fun because there were so few expectations to begin with.
Continue what you’re doing, Phils, because from a fan’s perspective, this is the most fun baseball has been in a while. You have me hoping for a winning season, and I think you guys can make it happen.