The Phillies, like all of the professional Philadelphia sports teams, have been a rollercoaster of emotions to follow this season. Losing the first series to the Marlins, followed by a week long break due to the stupidity of said Marlins was far from an ideal way to start a season. Fast forward to the first week of September and you’ll find a completely different team. Now 17-15, good enough for second place in the NL East, the Phillies have won 8 of their last 9 games. Bryce Harper went on record last week saying that the team needed to win nine out of the next 10 games. One more win against Washington and Harper’s wish comes true.
As mentioned above, not everything about this team’s performance has been perfect, and that trend will probably continue for the duration of the season. The marked improvement is a stark contrast to where they once were, however, and the team is beginning to click in all facets of the game. Young players like Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard to veterans like Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen are all making positive contributions, lightening the load of the established stars on the roster. It will be an interesting month, as the teams race to the finish line and to the playoffs. The Phillies have 28 more games this month, so a lot can change from now until then. As of right now, they are positioned exactly where they want to be.
I have a few thoughts about this team at its current state, and expectations for the future.
Alec Bohm is the middle-of-the-order bat he was advertised as
All Bohm has done since he was drafted third overall in 2018 is hit.
He does not have the same profile as most hitters his size. Using elite bat to ball skills, along with his advanced knowledge of the strikezone, Bohm has shown the Phillies’ faithful why he was so highly regarded coming out of Wichita State. The sample size is small, 16 games, but the results are on par with numbers he put up in the minors. In 55 at-bats, the former Shocker has slashed a cool .291/.365/.491 with 2 HRs and 9 RBIs. More impressively, Bohm has struck out 12.7% of the time, while walking 11.1%. Those numbers are exactly why he doesn’t fit the cookie cutter profile of a 6’5 power hitter. His numbers are even more astonishing when you take into account that he had a four game stretch in which he went 2/17.
He hasn’t always looked pretty, especially when in the field, but Bohm has shown that he will have a place in the middle of this lineup for, hopefully, the next decade. While he does have a lot of work to do if he wants to stay at the hot corner, Bohm has the work ethic to make improvement on the defensive side plausible. Even if it doesn’t work out at third base, Bohm definitely has the bat to make him a valuable first baseman. The universal DH seems like it will stick past this year, making it much easier to get Bohm’s bat in the lineup. It’s good that Girardi has all these toys to play around with on the lineup card.
Which brings me to my next thought…
The Phillies could have the deepest lineup in the Majors
In one year, the Phillies, somehow, went from the bottom half of the league in most offensive stats to the top 10. After slow starts from everyone not named Harper or Realmuto, the offense has rebounded to rank eighth in batting average (.262), third in on-base percentage (.346), and fourth in slugging percentage (.466) entering play on Wednesday. They have combined for 104 extra base hits, 49 of which have been of the 4 bag variety. Those 49 homeruns are good enough for a tie for 10th most in the league, and the Phillies have played at least 3 games less than everyone ahead of them. While a lot of the early season buzz was about how lethal our 3 and 4 hitters were, the recent talk has been about how production is coming from all spots in the lineup.
Rhys Hoskins is the prime example. Everyone remembers how helpless Hoskins looked at the plate to end 2019 and to start 2020. Don’t look now, but after starting the season 3/27 with 8 Ks, Hoskins is slashing .269/.433/.529 on the season. Not only has he been hitting recently, but his power that disappeared to end last year seems to be back, hitting 5 round trippers in his last seven games. He’s been the hottest hitter in the Phillies lineup during this recent roll, and will be an important reason to why this team will make it to the playoffs. But it doesn’t stop there.
McCutchen, Jean Segura, Didi Gregious and Roman Quinn, along with the aforementioned Bohm, have given the Phillies eight hitters in their lineup who can produce at any given moment. Right now, it is hard to argue that the Phillies don’t belong in the upper echelon of offensives in the MLB. Joe Dillon, the Phillies hitting coach, has done a fantastic job with his guys as they continue to roar towards the postseason.
It’s amazing how a coaching staff change can unlock the true potential to a team.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are both legitimate Cy Young contenders
While the offense didn’t start firing on all cylinders until recently, the two horses at the top of the Phillies rotation have been dominating hitters all year. Part of the reason that Wheeler was brought in was to take some of the pressure off of Nola at the top. From the results, it seems like it was a $118 million well spent.
After a 2019 that was atypical for Nola, the righty from Baton Rouge has come back with a vengeance. Nola, coming off an dominant start last night against Washington, is 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 44 innings pitched. He has struck out 57 while only walking 12, good for a 4.75 K/BB ratio. He’s throwing his changeup more than he ever has (29.3%) and results have been great. I have always wondered why Nola relied so heavily on his curveball, as it was his changeup that made him a top-10 pick in 2014. The increase use of the pitch could explain his strikeout jump, as before this season, his high K/9 was 10.19. This year, Nola is striking out 11.66 hitters per nine innings and a lot of that has to do with the increased usage of his devastating changeup.
Not to be outdone by his partner in crime, Wheeler seems to have taken a step further in his development, as seen by the 6.2 pristine innings thrown in the Phils 3-0 win last night. While he has only struck out 29 hitters in 45 innings, Wheeler was never the strikeout pitcher that his stuff would lead you to believe. Armed with a fastball that has averaged 96.8 mph to start 2020, Wheeler has found success pitching to contact this year. He is second in all of baseball with 61 ground ball outs this season, helping the Phillies to be the second best team in the league at inducing double plays, with an average of 1.16 a game. This season alone, Wheeler has induced nine double plays. Wheeler has kept the Phillies in every single game he has taken the rubber, all you can ask of a starting pitcher in today’s game.
The Phillies will never have an easy ninth inning
Prior to the trade deadline, the Phillies made three trades to address their hole: the bullpen. In acquiring help in the form of Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, David Hale and David Phelps, the Phils made necessary moves to help patch together a bullpen that was largely made up of waiver claims from the 2019 offseason. That being said, the ninth inning will always be an adventure for this team.
Workman seems to be slated in as the closer for this team, and while he has put up huge swing and miss number the last two years, he also walks a ton of hitters. Add in the fact that hitters have a batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, of .475 this year against him and you get multiple base runners every time he comes in to pitch. Now, a BABIP of .475 is nearly impossible to sustain for an entire, the fact remains the same. Either his pitches are unhittable resulting in a walk or strikeout, or he throws a meatball asking to be hit. 51.2% of contact off of him is hard, meaning players aren’t having a difficult time barreling up his pitches. In my opinion, Workman probably wasn’t that much of an upgrade over Hector Neris. With Neris, however, relying heavily on his splitter, a pitch that has to be on to be effective, Workman makes more sense to have closing out games.
The Phillies did a great job of improving the innings prior to the ninth. Phelps, Hembree, JoJo Romero, and Tommy Hunter give Joe Girardi plenty of options when he is mapping out the later innings of a game. Just be prepared to be on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the last frame.
If you were to ask me a few weeks ago what I thought of the Phillies, I would have told you that they flat out stink. In fact, I wrote an article explaining such. However, the way the team has turned around since then is nothing short of remarkable. The Phillies are in a great spot for the stretch run, and hold their postseason hopes in their hands.
Once again, I am excited to watch the Phillies. I just hope the outcome is different than, say, the Sixers.