The Phillies are better than their record, but the winning needs to start soon
Anybody can have a rough 41 games. The Phillies are closer to the playoffs than you might think.
Somebody shows you Phillies starter Zach Eflin striking out a career-high 12 in seven innings of four-hit ball while lowering his ERA to 3.65.
You wonder what all the fuss is about.
Somebody shows you Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez making the hottest hitter on the planet look like he’s chasing a housefly through a hotel room.
You wonder what all the fuss is about.
Somebody shows you the Phillies record.
Ah, there it is. The fuss.
If you came to Citizens Bank Park in search of a reprieve, Sunday was not your day, until suddenly it was. The Phillies were staring at a fourth straight loss that encapsulated all of the things the Phillies too often are — in field, at the plate, on the basepaths — and then suddenly they were streaming out of the dugout with one of those make-your-own-breaks wins that get manufactured by the teams that many swear that they aren’t.
Two out, bottom of the 10th, tying run on third, go-ahead run on second, a soft ground ball, an untimely bobble, the fastest man on the roster flying around third, the less-fast batter reaching safely at first. Everything looked familiar except the team celebrating the win.
Here in the moment, Roman Quinn’s mad dash home from second base on a booted game-ending grounder was a desperate play that gave a desperate team a 4-3 walk-off victory over the Dodgers and snapped a three-game losing skid. From a more thematic standpoint, it was a reminder of how randomly things can change in a sport like baseball.
“When you’re not scoring runs, people think that you’re flat,” manager Joe Girardi said, “but these guys are fighting like crazy.”
And nobody should be surprised if things continue to change for the Phillies.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything is going to be fine. These are the Phillies. Things rarely turn out fine. There is a school of thought that says you are what your record is, and there is plenty of truth in it. The Phillies are 19-22 and were very nearly 18-23 because they do a lot of the things that they did on Sunday.
There was a boneheaded base running blunder that wiped the (first) tying run from third base with nobody out in the 10th. There was a weak groundout into an inning-ending double play with the tying run on third base in the eighth. There was a high throw from third and a ground ball through the wickets at first and a lineup whose production far underperformed its price tag.
Yet there were also plenty of examples of reasons to believe that this Phillies team will prove to be much better than the standings currently show. Eflin’s seven strong innings were the latest sign that the rotation is on much sturdier ground than it was a year ago. Think about the questions surrounding this roster at the beginning of the season, and think about how you’d react if you learned they’d have five starters sitting at or above league average? Same goes for the back of the bullpen. What if you’d known that Dominguez and Corey Knebel would combine for 10 earned runs, 35 strikeouts and 15 walks in their first 33⅔ innings?
None of that excuses 19-22, nor guarantees that it won’t continue. But few things in life are as prone to misinterpretation as the first quarter of a baseball season. Wrap your head around this one, for instance. Heading into Sunday, the Phillies had outscored their opponents, 132-109, over their previous 28 games. That’s a run differential of +23, better than all but six teams in the majors, three in the National League. Yet the Phillies were just 14-14 during those 28 games. Compare that to the Mets, who had a run differential of +10 but were 17-11. Think about that. The Phillies were the team with more runs scored (132 to 125), and they were the team with fewer runs allowed (109 to 115). But the Mets were the team with more wins (17 to 14).
So, which team would you rather be?
That’s a trick question. Obviously, you’d rather be the team with three more wins. The point is that, over the next 121 games, the team that wins the most games is probably going to be the one that scores the most runs while allowing the fewest. In other words, if the Phillies outscore their opponents by twice as much as the Mets over the next 28 games, and the 28 games after that, the 28 games after that, all the way up until the last 28 games of the season, they’ll have a pretty good chance at winning more games than the Mets.
Look, I get it. Math is for weirdos. There’s a reason they don’t sell emotional support algorithms. The Phillies have a critical seven-game stretch starting Monday with four in Atlanta and three in New York. The math could look a lot different a week from now.
But history is an important subject, too. And when you combine the math and the history, there is plenty of reason for hope. Three of the last four NL pennant winners were below .500 through 40 games. Last year, the Braves won the World Series after a 19-21 start. In 2018 and 2019, the Nationals and Dodgers both recovered from a 16-24 start to advance to the World Series, with the Nationals winning it.
Point is, don’t panic. Not yet, at least. The lineup needs to get hot: hitting season needs to start soon. As long as there is a decent chance of that happening — and the track records of the component parts say that there is — there is a decent chance they’ll win more than they lose.
They need Aaron Nola to continue to be much better than he was last year. They need Zack Wheeler to stay healthy. They need Eflin, Ranger Suárez, and Kyle Gibson to be the pitchers they have been thus far. The front of the bullpen will never not be an adventure, but Knebel, Dominguez, and Brad Hand are encouraging developments for the back.
The Phillies at the quarter pole? They are a team with a run in them.