Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23rd Update: A Stellar Two Weeks

This team is showing signs of life in a very weak NL East. They went 5-2 on the road trip and have the best record in the NL East dating back two weeks. Yeah, this team is not a contender in any other division, but the difference between first & last in the NL East is 5.0 games entering Monday (the smallest margin of all divisions in MLB). So, there's a chance. Before I talk about the performance of the Phillies, I will start by predicting the NL East race.

The Mets & Marlins have certainly made things interesting, but without their No. 1 starters this year - Matt Harvey & Jose Fernandez, respectively - because of Tommy John Surgery... it's probably impossible for them to sustain their recent success. The Braves got off to a hot start this year but loosing four pitchers to injuries & an offense dominated by high-K players have finally caught up with them. The Nats have a lot of good players but, like the Phillies, haven't put it together yet. The Nats are 17-13 vs. division opponents, but .500 against everyone else. I think that they will get things going soon, but how long until that happens & will Philly or Atlanta catch up to them before hand? We shall see.

Anyway, how good have the Phillies been the past two weeks? Very good but also somewhat lucky defensively. They've been doing better fundamentally (fielding with few errors, hitting better w/ RISP, starting pitchers going deeper into games, an improved bullpen, better baserunning, etc.), but balls in play have been hit at people the last two weeks. The Cardinals' batted balls found more holes this past series, so the bad luck appears to be coming the Phillies' way in that regard. Will that trend continue? Per the Law of Averages, it probably will - for a short period anyway. Let's look at other aspects of the game... offense & pitching.

The bottom half of the order, filled mostly with inexperienced hitters was the biggest problem for the Phillies this year with the bullpen (particularly the rookies & sophomores) a close second. The young guys in the line-up and the bullpen have finally started performing, the former providing protection to the veteran-filled top half of the line-up.

The bullpen appears to have finally come around. Performing well in the middle of the year, when the games matter more, is a lot different than what these guys are used to the last two years: the spoilers' role. The relief core, over the past 14 days, have pitched to a 0.93 ERA (best in MLB in that span), a 3.8% HR/FB rate (4th lowest in MLB), a 10.86 K/9 (best in the NL & 2nd in MLB behind the Red Sox), and an 8.75 K/BB ratio (best in MLB). That's not sustainable over the 88 reg. season games remaining, but certainly a good sign. A lot of the problems stemmed from a high workload, resulting in days in which at least one player (Papelbon, in particular) was unavailable. The rest certainly appears to be helping. Deikman, about three weeks ago, attributed more rest to reaching 100 mph.

If the team can build off of this momentum and take advantage of a weak division while it can, the more likely it is that this team will get more All-Stars and that the front office will keep this team together come late-July. As I said, we won't see this level of success for much longer, but in this division, anything can happen. For now, enjoy the recent success and go Phils!

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