Sunday perfectly epitomized the 2018 Phillies. Despite being outscored by a 10-7 margin, striking out 20 times, going 2 for 17 with runners in scoring position, and stranding 18 base runners in their split of a double header with the basement-dwelling Padres, the Phillies still managed to extend their division lead over Atlanta by day’s end.
At 55-43, this current Phillies team has 21 more wins through 98 games than it did a season ago. In fact, last year’s team didn’t win its 55th game until the second week of September. The turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable, particularly when you consider how they have arrived at this point.
It’s all about pitching.
According to FanGraphs, the 15.0 WAR posted by Phillies pitchers this year leads the National League. Here are some other key numbers with NL ranks included:
- FIP: 2.60 (2nd)
- xFIP: 3.80 (2nd)
- ERA: 3.85 (5th)
- HR/FB%: 11.4% (3rd)
- BB/9: 2.96 (2nd)
- K/9: 9.11 (2nd)
- WHIP: 1.24 (T-3rd)
But one doesn’t need even numbers to understand just how good the pitching has been. Just consider that the Phillies have held at least a share of first-place in the NL East dating back to July 6 despite the following:
They don’t hit for average. Their .236 team average is 26th in baseball. They don’t hit for power. Their .390 slugging percentage is 24th. They don’t put the ball in play. They’re striking out in 25% of their plate apperances, which is the third highest rate in all of baseball, and their bench currently consists of a backup catcher, Jesmuel Valentin, Mitch Walding, and Trevor Plouffe. Those last three guys are hitting a combined .165 this season with one home run. Oh, and they don’t catch the ball. The 13 passed balls and 49 wild pitches they have allowed are the worst and second-worst marks, respectively, in the National League. According to FanGraphs, their collective -68 defensive runs saved across all positions is the third-worst mark of any team in baseball. Those ugly defensive numbers aren’t hard to figure when mind-numbing gaffes like this one seem to happen daily:
This is a first-place baseball team. pic.twitter.com/1T4CzECVxi
— BWanksCB (@BWCrossingBroad) July 22, 2018
The Phillies are often frustrating, and at times, boring. Their flaws were frequently on display during a mediocre 5-5 stretch over the last two weeks against against the Mets, Marlins, and Padres. There’s no doubt they left an additional win or two on the table against three teams with a combined 124-175 record (.415 win percentage). And yet, they wake up this morning in position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011 on the strength of good starting pitching, some improved relief pitching, and what some might call a patient and, uh, opportunistic offense. I guess? But they need help.
If you want pom poms and rah-rah routine about these guys, there exists a few local radio hosts out there that can lead the cheers for you, but here’s the truth: What this team has accomplished is extraordinary and people should applaud its ability to overcome its own shortcomings to even be in this spot, but without meaningful additions ahead of next Tuesday’s trade deadline, it’s almost impossible to fathom that they will remain there.