An 8-3 win over the New York Mets on Sunday ended a roller coaster ride of a first half for the Philadelphia Phillies. While the Phillies finished May at 33-24, with a three-game lead in the National League East. However, since going 17-11 in May, Gabe Kapler’s squad has gone 14-19, and will head into the second-half of the season four games above .500 and in control of the second Wild Card spot in the National League.
These 5 numbers capture the story of this wild first half for the team.
4.56: Starter’s ERA
In an offseason that featured the Phillies handing out over $400 million in contracts, general manager Matt Klentak elected to run it back with the 2018 starting rotation after failing to land either of Patrick Corbin or J.A. Happ. That strategy has backfired on them as the rotation collapsed in the weeks leading up to the midsummer classic.
The trio of Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have been completely unreliable all season long. Zach Eflin, who was exceptional through the first two months of the season, has a 5.24 ERA since the start of May. And while Aaron Nola was excellent in his last four starts in the first half, he had a 4.89 ERA as recently as June 20.
The Phillies rotation has been atrocious even beyond the surface numbers. The rotation’s combined 3.1 WAR ranks 14th in the National League. Keeping the ball in the yard has been difficult for Phillies pitchers across the board, and the rotation’s 1.72 HR/9 ranks last in the National League as well. The 5.06 FIP ranks dead last in the National League, suggesting that this isn’t an issue of an unlucky first half; the rotation, as a whole, is just bad.
-0.3: Combined WAR for Phillies bullpen
The Phillies’ bullpen has been a mess along with the rotation all year long. Injuries and inconsistency across the board have hurt a bullpen that looked much improved on paper heading into the season. This combined WAR ranks 13th in the National League, and like with the starters, none of the numbers beyond the surface have been good. The combined 4.76 ERA of the bullpen ranks 10th in the National League, and its 5.05 FIP is worst in National League. And home runs have been a serious problem for the ‘pen, too, with a 1.73 HR/9 that ranks them last in the National League.
The only pitcher in the bullpen who has exceeded expectations all season long is Hector Neris, who has continued on a strong second half in 2018 and solidified himself as one of the better closers in the game. Other pitchers expected to step up, specifically Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson, have been injured and young, inexperienced pitchers have been forced onto the scene.
.577: Combined slugging percentage for Scott Kingery and Jay Bruce
The idea that the Phillies season could be lost without the offensive contributions of these two is an excellent example of the unpredictability of baseball. In a lineup that contains Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto, it is Bruce and Kingery that have been responsible for carrying the offense at times this season.
For Kingery, this season has been a complete 180 from a season long struggle during his 2018 rookie campaign. His .889 OPS is nearly 300 points higher than it was last year. He already has 28 extra-base hits this season after he had 33 in more than double the at-bats in 2018.
The Phillies initially intended for Bruce to be a left-handed power bat off the bench when they acquired him in early June, but he’s become important insurance following Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending ACL tear. He has played nearly every day for the Phillies and has come up big at times when the rest of the offense was struggling. Since his first game as a Phillie on June 3, he leads the team in home runs (10), RBIs (29) and OPS (.949). This pace is likely unsustainable for Bruce during the second half of the season, but what he has done thus far alone makes his acquisition a huge success for Klentak’s front office.
Though not on an MVP pace, Bryce Harper still has 62 RBIs, which is tied for eighth in the National League. Rhys Hoskins will enter the second-half of the 2019 season with 20 home runs and 59 RBIs, so it certainly hasn’t been an underwhelming half of baseball for the 26-year-old first baseman. But it’s hard to imagine where the Phillies offense would be if it weren’t for the contributions of Kingery and Bruce.
45: Players to appear in a game for the Phillies this year
After adding two former National League MVP outfielders during this offseason, the Phillies seemed to have finally fixed what had been an incredibly weak point for the last several years. But during this first half, the outfield problems only continued.
This has happened due to the perfect storm of injuries, underwhelming performances (remember that Aaron Altherr played for the Phillies earlier this season?) and the Odubel Herrera arrest/suspension. And it has left Kingery, a natural second baseman, as the team’s everyday center fielder.
The outfield hasn’t been the only revolving door of new players, however. 23 different Phillies have come out of the bullpen this year. This has mostly been due to injuries, which forced inexperienced guys like J.D. Hammer and Edgar Garcia into high-leverage situations. Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez are the only two members of the Phillies Opening Day bullpen that haven’t had a stint on the injured list in the first half of the 2018 season.
These injuries and constant roster changes are not the only reason for the Phillies struggles, but they have certainly played a major role.
.523: Winning percentage
On the surface, this season has been a disappointment for the Phillies across the board. The rotation has been a disaster, the bullpen and outfield have been killed by underperformances and injuries, and a star studded team has only produced one All-Star. Yet, with all of the things that have gone wrong, the team remains just a half game out of the first National League Wild Card spot and six-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
While there have been some struggles across the board, there isn’t really reason to believe any success the Phillies had in the first half was based on luck. A 9-9 record in one-run games and a +2 run differential that was hampered by some absolute beatdowns at the hands of opponents indicate that the team is right where it should be record wise.
A good deadline combined with some better health can carry the Phillies to a very good second-half. But, as mentioned before, this is still a major risk. There are holes throughout this team, and sitting the deadline out in order to hold onto all potential trade chips could be the right move. Following the All-Star Break there will still be roughly three weeks until the July 31 trade deadline, and Klentak has a tough decision to make leading up to that day.
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