The Phillies put it on the Pirates this past weekend, culminating a four-game sweep by collecting 18 hits in a comfortable (the Jeurys Familia appearance excluded) 8-2 win Sunday afternoon. You’re probably feeling pretty good about your baseball team right now.
And guess what, you should!
After 102 games, the Phillies are a season-best eight games over .500, somewhere they haven’t been in, oh, 1,142 days. With 60 games to go, they control their postseason destiny. They hold a game (and tie-breaker) over the Cardinals and trail the Padres by just 1.5 games for the second wild card spt. In fact, Baseball Reference currently projects the Phillies with a 77.1% chance to make the playoffs.
The Phillies get a day off Monday before a quick two-game set down in Atlanta. As the team takes a brief pause, Dave Dombrowski’s front office must decide over the next two days just how aggressive it wants to be after the Phillies erased an ugly start to the second half with a great week of baseball.
Let’s jump into some numbers, thoughts, and observations as the Phillies enter the month of August with a legitimate chance at cracking the postseason for the first time in a long time.
The Road Less Traveled
If you would’ve told me back in March the Phillies would be 55-47 and sit as one of the National League’s four best teams in terms of run production, I probably would’ve gone for that. In this way, their current position isn’t a surprise, but the path traveled to arrive at it? I’ll admit, I didn’t have Joe Girardi lasting 51 games, exiting in late May with a 22-29 record. I sure as hell didn’t have Rob Thomson taking over, only to help lead a remarkable 33-18 charge.
That Thomson’s Phillies have been able to do it with key injuries to Jean Segura and Bryce Harper makes it all the more stunning — perhaps as stunning as a once-miserable Phillies bullpen transforming into an elite unit since June 1.
Since that date, Phillies relievers top the National League in WAR, per FanGraphs, and sport its third-best ERA. Those numbers would look even better, except, well:
Familia has given up more earned runs in this series than all four Phillies starters combined. https://t.co/xdSv6aYfjg
— Bob Wankel (@BobWankelCB) July 31, 2022
If it were up to me, the trade deadline shopping list would look like this:
- Starting pitcher that can take down a postseason game
- Left-handed hitting centerfielder
- Setup-caliber arm
Of course, a superstar talent would be great, but the Phillies just don’t seem likely to play in that market.
So, how will they play it?
I’m not sure their dreadful start to the second half against the Cubs last weekend had any fundamental impact on the organization’s trade deadline philosophy. Similarly, it’s hard to know if its subsequent rebound has altered the thinking.
What I can tell you is that it has created greater urgency on the part of fans. It has been 3,951 days since Ryan Howard fell while running down the first base line, making the final out in the Phillies’ 2011 National League Division Series Game 5 loss to the Cardinals. Everyone can probably agree that enough is enough. It’s time to end the postseason drought.
But from a more tangible standpoint, what would greater urgency and aggressiveness look like? Mick Abel and Andrew Painter? No way. You can make the argument that Phillies’ pitching prospects don’t pan out, so fuck it, who cares? Do the deal!
I get it, but contrary to popular belief (and the Phillies’ ugly recent track record), prospects can (and often do) work out.
Abel and Painter have been outstanding, and short of a franchise-altering talent that comes with team control, there’s just no way the Phillies can entertain a package involving either player. They certainly can’t do it for (insert marginal outfield upgrade or fourth starter here).
But I've also heard from multiple teams that the #Phillies haven't just said no on their 2 top-100 pitching prospects, Painter & Abel, but also on Griff McGarry, Ben Brown & Logan O'Hoppe
Hard to see how they can trade for a Game 3/4 type starter without including one of those 3
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 31, 2022
Some reports, including the one above, suggest the team is reluctant to discuss other arms like Griff McGarry, the recently-promoted Ben Brown, or catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe, but it’s fair to wonder if this is simply a negotiation play. Their reluctance to subtract from a minor league system they’ve worked hard to better is sensible, but it’s hard to imagine the Phillies don’t take on at least a little hurt to move the needle right now.
Their willingness to up the aggressiveness figures to increase should the right name enter the mix between now and late Tuesday afternoon.
Alec Bohm and July 33rd?
If Kyle Schwarber was sad to see the month of June come and go, Alec Bohm may be equally disappointed to say goodbye to July.
Remember when Rob Thomson joked back in June that July 1 would be June 31 for Schwarber? Maybe Tuesday night will be July 33rd (Monday would be 32nd) for Bohm.
Writer’s Note: I had a kid about 10 months ago. Dad jokes are now second nature.
What a month, one that not only dramatically altered his previously lackluster numbers, but one that has changed the general feeling regarding the third baseman.
Alec Bohm with a solo shot to make him 4 for 4!! pic.twitter.com/rHhaiuUx6K
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) July 31, 2022
Below average defense and minimal pop wasn’t enough to offset an average that hovered around .250-.260. Fast forward following a month in which he hit .434 with a 1.089 OPS, and things have changed a bit.
Bohm opens August hitting .299, lifting his OPS from .653 to .746 in just a month’s time. He has two more important months ahead to sell the Phillies (and perhaps other teams around baseball) that his July wasn’t just a 20-game fluke.
This begs the question — was it a fluke?
We saw Bohm surge in limited play as a rookie, showing a willingness to use all fields en route to making himself a part of the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year conversation. Given his immense struggles a season ago paired with often underwhelming play for three months this season, I can’t say I’m totally sold, but there are some noticeable changes.
He’s on time to the ball more often, his balance is better, and he’s making far more productive contact. Surprisingly, he isn’t necessarily hitting the ball harder than he has at other points this season, but he’s not beating the ball into the dirt out in front of the plate, and that additional lift has resulted in increased production:
Corey Knebel, Actually Not Bad!
It has been a weird season for Phillies reliever Corey Knebel.
First he lost command of his pitches, then he lost command of his closer role. It hasn’t been an easy watch with him at times, but what basically felt like a $10 million reclamation project at one point back in early June has once again become an important piece for a vastly-improved bullpen.
Following an ugly Father’s Day outing against the Nationals in which he recorded just four outs while walking three batters, allowing two hits and two runs to score in a 9-3 loss, Knebel’s ERA sat at a season-worst 3.95. Since that game, however, he hasn’t yielded a run over 14 appearances, dropping his ERA to 2.59. Not only have opponents scored in just 8 of Knebel’s 42 appearances this season, they’re hitting just .177 against him.
True, many of his recent outings have come during lower leverage situations. Walks remain a problem (he has issued four walks over his last 7 2/3 innings pitched), but he recorded the final six outs Saturday night to earn a win — his first decision since mid-June.
Knebel picks Cruz off 😁 pic.twitter.com/stZLyYpGg5
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) July 31, 2022
Reports of His Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated
For three months, J.T. Realmuto wasn’t good this season. Instances of brilliant defense were coupled with some uncharacteristically sloppy moments.
More concerning was his offense. Through his first 68 games, he hit just .239 with a .677. OPS. When Bryce Harper went down on June 26, few thought the Phillies could stay afloat, primarily because few thought Realmuto had it in him to play as a middle-of-the-order bat.
All he’s done in 22 games with Harper out of the lineup is hit .346 with nine extra-base hits over 78 at-bats. During this time, his OPS has soared from .680 to .760. And while catchers such as Alejandro Kirk and Willson Contreras maintain superior offensive statistics, Realmuto begins August leading all catchers in WAR, per FanGraphs.
Is he an elite player at this point in his career? Maybe not. Early-season criticisms of his game were justified, too, but he’s done plenty over the last month-plus to show he’s far from cooked and remains in the conversation as the best catcher in baseball.