Wednesday, April 25, 2018

We know it's early, but are the Phillies championship contenders?

Image- Jay Floyd
Entering action this week, the Phillies resided just ½ game out of first place in the National League East division and confidence in the team among its fan base was growing by the day. With playoff fever consuming local 76ers supporters and Super Bowl dreams fulfilled this year for Eagles Nation, high hopes are abound for the local nine.

A remarkable turnaround, led by a new regime, has fans, media types and baseball insiders alike wondering that the Phillies’ odds of reaching or winning the World Series could be.

This week I gathered feedback from several sports authorities that are familiar with the Phillies, seeking insight on their early impressions and thoughts on the team’s potential for postseason glory. Read on for those remarks.

TV anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, formerly of Comcast SportsNet/NBCSN Philly-


To say the Phillies are off to a good start is an understatement. I thought if they got enough good starting pitching behind Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola that they could be in wild card contention as long as the offense continued to show growth from its young players. If you told me only three of the 11 regulars Gabe Kapler has used would hit over .250 through the first 21 games (including four under .200) I wouldn’t think this team would be .500 let alone within a game of the best record in the National League. But here we are thanks to outstanding pitching from that aforementioned 1-2 punch plus Nick Pivetta, and the ability of Vince Velazquez and Ben Lively to keep the Phils in games.

While this isn’t the second coming of the “Four Aces,” the improvement in pitching has paved the way for a possibility unforeseen at season’s outset. I thought if the Phillies were to make a push, they’d have to slug their way into a Wild Card spot. They’ve responded with dismal generic numbers slashing .230/.325/.372 as a team. That’s...not good. I mean the OBP is good, but hitting .230 (22nd) and slugging under .400 (24th) won’t get it done. Fortunately this team has been at its best when it counts, aka with runners in scoring position. Night and day is how I’d describe a team with the previously mentioned numbers vs. one that ranks 7th in OPS (.837) w/ RISP through 21 games.

We’re watching a team at the 100 M mark of an 800 M race and off to a very strong start. Can they finish in the top 5 of a 15-team race that has already seen a couple of teams (Reds, Marlins) pull up lame? The short answer is yes, because they have the talent to do it. The long answer is they haven’t played the Nationals once yet, that schedule gets ridiculous in June, a 6-1 record in 1-run games is due for regression, and 10 comeback wins over the first 21 games would seem like more than their fair share. But if the pitching keeps this up and Jerad Eickhoff can be closer to his 2016 self than his 2017 self when he returns, things could get interesting. And I’m not talking just as a wild card contender. The Nats will get healthy and they’re still -as Jimmy Rollins might assess- the team to beat in the division. But the longer they can hang around close to the top, the more time Gabe Kapler has to instill in this group that there’s no timeline for when the rebuild is officially over. Instead there is only the present. And the Phils have to feel pretty good about what the future could hold based on what they’ve done well before “hittin’ season” has officially started.

Tony Graham of BlueClaws.com and a former long-time sports reporter with the Asbury Park Press-


While the Phillies surprising start has been a revelation I tend to be more of a realist than optimist.

First an observation - I admit I am a baseball traditionalist and while I see the value of versatility and analytics I just wonder how effectively the lineup will jell with the constant shuffling of positions and personnel.

Granted while it offers depth I think - especially in the case of young players like Kingery and Crawford - they need to play every day to develop.

As for pondering the Phillies’ post season chances:

As long as the starting pitching holds up - beyond Nola and Arrieta - the Phillies could be in the wild card mix.

The bullpen - which I believe has performed above expectations thus far - should be bolstered further with the eventual return of Leiter Jr. and Neshek.

At the plate one has to believe Santana will come around and that the offense overall has yet to hit its stride - whatever that may be. While promising (begin with Hoskins and go com there) it has a ways to go before it challenges -if it ever does - the Howard-Utley-Rollins level.

My overall opinion is that while a nucleus for success is now in its formative stages and the ball club is trending upward it could be more of an “April-May team” in 2018.

It may play over its head for a while this spring/summer though still being at least a year away from legitimate playoff contention when it adds at least one more impact free agent.

WIP radio host Joe Giglio-

I'm not surprised the Phillies are doing well, but I am surprised at how they've gotten there: Pitching, but an inconsistent offense. It'll likely even out, with more runs allowed and scored, but there's a foundation here for success. I like the lineup depth and the bullpen. If Nick Pivetta can continue to pitch at a high level, the rotation has three very formidable starters. It's a fun team that should have a chance at a wild card this year.

Eric Floyd, who previously wrote for PhilliesNation and blogged for University of Pittsburgh athletics-

This past Sunday, in the midst of getting no-hit through four innings, Nick Pivetta let up a 2-run home run to Elias Diaz. If this scenario had occurred any time over the last six seasons, a 2-run deficit would feel almost insurmountable with the assumption that the lead would only balloon from there. Today, however, the 2018 roster has reversed the narrative. This team’s relentless attitude and ability to learn and grow game-by-game sets them apart from those squads that fell apart time and again. This version of the Phillies is looking to prove that the days of collapsing and helplessly tanking are gone and that the future is bright. Based on how they have played this April, I feel comfortable saying that this team could absolutely fulfill their goal for 2018 – making the playoffs.

However, a couple issues. First, I have been guilty of buying into the Phillies’ April hype before. In 2016 when the team finished April 14-10, including a 8-1 stretch to finish the month, I wrote that they would finally secure the first winning record since 2012. Reality said no and the team finished 71-91. Second, since the Eagles won the Super Bowl, Philadelphia has been on a sports-centered tear. The Flyers may have flamed out, but there is tangible excitement surrounding the Sixers’ current playoff run. I would be remiss not to mention that I am viewing the Phillies through intensely green and blue-tinted shades that have me seeing Phillies red in the playoffs. Lastly, the comparison between the Phillies statistical start in 2016 and this past month is startling at first glance. Through 21 games in 2016, the team was hitting .231/.292/.371. Following the 21stgame of the year on Sunday, the team was hitting .230/.325/.372. This team is getting on base more often than two years ago, at least so far, but otherwise it appears similar. The key difference that is going to make this squad a contender this year is the pitching.

The Phillies’ rotation has received deserved praise for their start this season, putting together a 3.01 ERA, good for lowest in the National League. But as a whole, the team’s pitchers have amounted a 3.01 ERA. The 2016 team’s pitching through 21 games? A 4.08 ERA. The addition of Jake Arrieta, the continued dominance of Aaron Nola, and the possibility that some combination of Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ben Lively, and Jared Eickhoff performing at a high level for this team would spell success for the Phillies. When pitchers can work deep into games and as a team keep opposing teams to a 3 runs or less, it becomes much easier for the bats to fight their way back into a game. The lineup will come together and surely improve, especially given the number of young players still adjusting to the major league-level, but make no mistake, pitching will lead this team.

Yes, the schedule so far has been light. Yes, there will be tougher tests to come – especially the final stretch of this home stand against the NL West-leading Diamondbacks and equally surprising Braves. But, if this team keeps operating with the mindset that carried them through the first month, there is a promising summer ahead. Regardless of where the team ultimately ends up this year, this team is already making baseball in Philadelphia fun to watch again.

Tyrone Johnson, producer and host on 97.5 The Fanatic-

I have been impressed by the Phillies pitching early so I think they’ll be in the mix all year, but will not make the postseason. Hoskins is a future MVP in my opinion and my favorite player in the MLB. Kapler will end up being a good manager, but I think the day to day instability both with the lineup and their defense will ultimately cause them to come up short. I also don’t think the Phillies will make a trade deadline move when other contenders will. 

My own thoughts-

Personally, with the team proving in the early going that they can compete, residing just a half game out of the top spot in their division entering action on Tuesday, I am very confident that the 2018 Phillies could make a push into the postseason and threaten to compete in the Fall Classic, if things go right.

Come mid-season, if the team remains in contention, they can become buyers at the trading deadline for the first time in several years. Adding offense to a team that’s currently third in the National League in runs scored or pitching to a team that is second in the league in ERA prior to game action on Wednesday would make this club fully fearsome.

And on the topic of adding production to this already dangerous squad, keep in mind that the Phils’ biggest off-season acquisition (Jake Arrieta was signed during preseason, folks), Carlos Santana, hasn’t busted out of an early season funk yet. A common outlook in baseball is that hitters hit. Big name offensive players with track records like Santana ultimately produce numbers that closely match what’s on the back of their baseball cards or, to speak in non-old guy terms, what’s in the career totals row their Baseball Reference page. Imagine how much fun fans and the Phillies are going to have watching Santana improve his season numbers to the more familiar .806 OPS territory he’s tallied in his eight years in the majors.

Internal additions to the pitching staff are expected come in the form of last year’s Phillies All-Star Pat Neshek, reliever Mark Leiter Jr. and starter Jerad Eickhoff as they recover from their respective ailments which currently have them sidelined. And that doesn’t even factor in exciting righty pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos, who has impressed this season with a 1-0 record, a 1.98 ERA and 22 strike outs compared to five walks in 13 2/3 innings in his first three starts with the Triple-A IronPigs.

Through the first few weeks of the season, the Phillies’ win-loss record is better than I thought it would be and, barring injuries, the team is only going to get better this year. I’d say the possibility of reaching the playoffs is a real thing and the team that is the hottest in October will prove most successful in the end, so a run at a championship isn’t out of the question as the team continues to improve.

If you have an opinion on the Phillies’ chances of reaching the postseason, leave some feedback in the comments section or hit me back on Twitter.
Post a Comment