It’s a young season. In fact, it’s a very young season. Nevertheless, baseball is here. That means it’s time to make assertions about how and why everything is the way it is, and blow the results of small sample-sizes out of proportion. Today’s focus is on the Philadelphia Phillies. The 2016 Phillies are not expected to be a competitive team. In fact, they’re supposed to be particularly painful to watch. Despite this common knowledge, it appears that the Phillies players have decided that they’re not going to comply with this…at least for a week.
The front office is calling their current state a rebuilding process, while many in the media are calling it tanking. Both are true, though the latter sounds worse. Following tonight’s victory, the Phils now have a winning record (13-10), something I can honestly say I did not expect to happen once all season. Not only do the Phils have a winning record, they even swept the Nationals in the process.
I do not anticipate this to last. The team is 7-3 in their last 10 games, and that just isn’t sustainable when you consider the pitching staff. Aaron Nola, Vincent Velazquez, and Jerad Eickhoff look like strong future pieces, but they are still developing and have a ways to go. Relying on Jeremy Hellickson and Adam Morgan regularly is not what a team with a .565 winning percentage would do. A team that intends to win will spend more than $9 million on their bullpen, and that is not the Phillies this year.
So that begs the question: why are the Phillies winning? My first guess would be timing. Taking a series from the Brewers is no accomplishment, but sweeping the Nationals was quite unexpected. Sure, the Nats were on the tail end of their hot start, and the Phillies happened to heat up at the perfect time. Recent history teaches us that by the time the front office declares a rebuild, the team is no longer competitive. However, the April version of the 2016 Phillies have displayed otherwise. From a certain point of view, it could be interpreted that the players have simply decided that they will not be tanking. Of course, that’s not entirely in their hands, but it’s a fun thought.
One thing for sure, is that Odubel Herrera is absolutely wearing pitchers down these days. Of all batters with 50+ plate appearances, Herrera ranks first with an absurd, Votto-like walk rate of 23.2%. As Fangraphs has already pointed out, his spectacular walk-rate is probably not going to last, though it does appear that his plate discipline has improved. Another reason for this little episode of hope is Maikel Franco’s scorching hot bat. Over the past seven days, Franco is hitting .391/.462/.826 with 3 HR and 9 RBI. In other words, Odubel has been getting on base, and Franco has been taking advantage of it.
Maybe they wanted to silence the haters? Or possibly this a taste of what is to come? Who knows for sure, but what is clear is that the team is fun and exciting to watch right now. Don’t worry about the dread that is to come. Rather, enjoy the success the Phils are having right now, and savor the walk-off bomb Ryan Howard just hit: