The Philadelphia Phillies (31-22) have been able to hold on to first place in the National League East Division standings while fighting their way through what is arguably the most challenging portion of their entire 2019 regular season schedule.
As we reach Memorial Day, the only off-day in this stretch of 23 games in 24 days against tough competition outside of the division, that daunting gauntlet has been more than halfway run.
The team has won seven of 10 games since dropping three of the first four during this stretch. The Phillies are now 8-6 over the first two weeks of the nearly month-long test.
The club returns home briefly on Tuesday to begin a three-game series with the Saint Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. Then the Phillies will head back out on the road, flying west for six games against the top two teams in the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
The Phillies offensive attack has been inconsistent to this point, and is ranked mostly in the middle of the pack in the National League. They are currently 6th in the league in runs per game and on-base percentage, 8th in hits and OPS, 12th in home runs and steals.
So maybe it has been the pitching that has kept the Phillies in first place? Not hardly. The staff has been just as inconsistent. Phillies pitchers as a group are ranked 14th of the 15 NL teams in batting average against and OPS. They are 7th in ERA, 11th in strikeouts, 8th in walks.
Defense maybe? Nope. The Phillies rank just 10th in the league in fielding percentage. Their 31 errors are sixth-most in the National League.
Fact of the matter is that the Phillies have outperformed their team statistics to this point. That overall inconsistency is the primary reason that the club has won as many as four straight games just once all season – their first four games of the year. On the flip side, their talent is strong enough that they haven’t lost more than three in a row, which has happened just twice.
There is plenty of room for growth with this 2019 Phillies team. The most obvious is Bryce Harper. Despite ranking 15th in the NL in RBIs, Harper has underperformed his talent and career averages in nearly every other offensive category. Third base, where Maikel Franco has cooled considerably, and center field are other areas where improvement could come.
Barring devastating injuries, it is hard to see this Phillies team doing any worse than they have already performed. And with that said, they remain in first place in the division and are dueling the Chicago Cubs for the league’s second-best record.
As always, my NL East Beat report reveals how each of those Phillies divisional rivals fared over the course of the past week: games scores, pivotal performers, key injuries, and other important updates on each team are included.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION STANDINGS
ATLANTA BRAVES (5 – 2)
Summary: the Braves have won 12 of their last 16 games and have been pressuring the Phillies for weeks now. That continued last week when Atlanta captured three of four in San Francisco and then two of three over the weekend in Saint Louis.
The Braves scored more than four runs in just three of their games last week, and manager Brian Snitker‘s squad has built their surge largely on consistently excellent starting pitching.
Young right-hander Mike Soroka and lefty Max Fried have paced the starting rotation, which has also gotten solid work from Julio Teheran and Kevin Gausman. If Mike Foltynewicz, who is still finding himself since returning from the IL, can return to form the defending division champs can be expected to keep that pressure coming.
Veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman is enjoying an All-Star caliber season. He is slashing .317/.406/.577 and leads the Braves with 13 homers, 38 runs and 27 extra-base hits. Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Ronald Acuna is having a find sophomore year slashing .277/.368/.480 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs, 35 runs and five steals. Shortstop Dansby Swanson continues to lead the team with 35 RBIs.
Key injuries: starting center fielder Ender Inciarte has gone on the IL with a lumbar strain and is likely to miss at least a few weeks. Righty reliever Darren O’Day has a right forearm strain and has not even thrown from a mound.
Upcoming: Following an off-day on Memorial Day the Braves will be home this week at SunTrust Park. They host the division-rival Washington Nationals on Tuesday and Wednesday, enjoy another off-day on Thursday, and then host the Detroit Tigers for an Interleague series over the weekend.
MIAMI MARLINS (3 – 3)
Summary: the Marlins began last week with a three-game sweep in Detroit that stretched their season-high winning streak out to six in a row. However, they resumed their previous losing ways by getting swept by the Nationals over the weekend.
Though they went on that winning streak, not much has really changed for the Fish. Jorge Alfaro continues to lead in homers with seven, Brian Anderson in RBIs with 21, and Neil Walker in the average categories with a .285/.364/.431 slash line.
38-year-old veteran Curtis Granderson has 14 extra-base hits in just 150 plate appearances. Rookie Harold Ramirez has slashed .395/.439/.553 over his first 11 big-league games following a mid-May promotion and given the club a shot in the arm.
On the mound, lefty Caleb Smith finally had his first poor outing of the season his last time out, surrendering five earned runs over just three innings against the Nationals. On the season he continues to sport All-Star caliber numbers: 38 hits over 56 innings with a 72/16 K:BB and a 0.964 WHIP.
Key injuries: Righty reliever Drew Steckenrider was placed on the 60-day IL with a forearm strain and is out until after the MLB All-Star Game break. While the Marlins have five other players on the IL, none can be considered key guys. This has been a largely healthy squad all year – they’re just not very good in this early stage of a rebuild. Think of where the Phillies were about 3-4 years ago.
Upcoming: Miami is in Washington to finish up a four-game wraparound series with the Nationals on Memorial Day. They return home to host the San Francisco Giants for three games, the only three home tilts in the middle of a 13 road games out of 16 stretch. They’ll be in San Diego over the weekend.
NEW YORK METS (6 – 1)
Summary: it has been a mostly miserable season in the Big Apple, but the Mets feel that they may now be righting the ship after they swept the Nationals in four games then won two of three over the Tigers this past week.
In the first six games, the club scored at least five runs in each. Six of the seven games were decided by two runs or less, as the Mets showed some mental toughness in putting together their big week.
Getting right fielder Michael Conforto back into the lineup following a stay on the IL could help keep the Mets rolling. Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso continues to lead the club in most major offensive categories, but much of that was built up over a hot first month or so. He has been cold for a few weeks now.
The Mets top four starting pitchers have fought through bouts of inconsistency, but are pitching well overall. Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz give the club a chance to be in most games. New closer Edwin Diaz went through a brief rough stretch at the start of the month but has returned to lights-out status of late.
Key injuries: Veteran bats Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie are all on the IL with assorted injuries. Cespedes will miss the rest of the season after ankle surgery last week following an accident on his home ranch. Jeff McNeil, who has been excellent as a super-utility player, is on the IL with a left hamstring strain. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo is also on the IL with whiplash and a bulging cervical disc. Relievers Seth Lugo, Luis Avilan and Justin Wilson are out with a variety of injuries, none due back soon.
Upcoming: the Mets begin a week-long western road trip on Memorial Day. They will play four at Dodger Stadium and then three in Phoenix over the weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (3 – 4)
Summary: the week began with the under-achieving Nationals in deep trouble. They were swept in a four-game series at Citi Field vs. a New York Mets squad that had been struggling. But then Washington bounced back, sweeping the last-place Marlins over the weekend at Nationals Park.
Pending free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon continues to put together an All-Star campaign. The 29-year-old is slashing .329/.423/.678 with team high’s of 10 homers and 29 extra-base hits. He is second on the club with 31 RBIs, behind only the 35 of Juan Soto, who is slashing .288/.388/.513 himself.
Veteran Howie Kendrick continues to give the club a shot in the arm, slashing .303/.346/.549 with 28 RBIs, third on the club, in just 136 plate appearances. Kendrick has seen action at every infield position other than shortstop.
On the mound, the starting trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin has remained mostly dominating. But nearly every other pitcher, starter or reliever, who manager Dave Martinez has called upon has been a disappointment. It has been that poor pitching depth which has hurt the Nationals more than anything.
Key injuries: the club’s fourth and fifth starters, Anibal Sanchez and Jeremy Hellickson, are both on the IL. It’s hard to say that is much of a loss, because neither was performing very well. Veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman still suffers from plantar fasciitis and hopes to begin baseball activities soon.
Upcoming: the Nationals host the Marlins on Memorial Day. But after that one game the club will hit the road for 11 of their next 13 contests in a stretch that could either get them back into things, or bury them for good.
MORE FROM PHILLIES NATION:
- Phillies blown out by Brewers in series finale
- Larry Shenk’s Phillies Minor League Report: 5/27/19
- Deivy Grullon continues strong season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley
- First trimester report card: Aaron Nola
- Phillies expected to go shopping for lefty bench bat this summer