5 reasons the Phillies are winning now

Young club exceeding expectations as surprise contender in NL East

May 20th, 2016

One question lots of people are asking about the Phillies is whether or not they're remarkable start is sustainable.

Who cares? Let's just enjoy the ride and all its possibilities as the Braves come to Citizens Bank Park for a weekend series.

At 24-17, the Phillies are seven games above .500 for the first time since 2011, their most recent playoff season.

They're in second place in the National League East, a game behind the first-place Nationals (25-16) and 1 1/2 games in front of the third-place Mets (22-18).

"Our confidence is through the roof," catcher Cameron Rupp said the other night.

The Phils are not easy to understand. They are winning despite a -28 run differential -- the seventh worst in the Majors -- and an offense that has scored the second-fewest runs in the Majors.

Here's how the Phillies have come to their record.

1. They are 14-3 in one-run games. The Giants, at 9-5, have the second-best record in that situation.

2. In the NL, Philadelphia's rotation ERA (3.72) ranks fifth and its bullpen ERA (3.91) is the seventh best.

3. Closer Jeanmar Gomez is 16 for 17 in save chances. Right-hander Hector Neris has 11 holds. Furthermore, Neris and David Hernandez lead NL relievers in strikeouts, with 33 and 30.

"Give us a lead, we feel like we're not going to give up a run," Hernandez said.

  1. The Phillies are 13-8 against the NL East.

    5. They had three walk-off victories in a 13-day stretch in April.

    Magic? There's some of that. But winning is winning. Since an 0-4 start, the Phils are 24-13. Since April 20, they're 18-8.

    They're making every run count. They're scored fewer than five runs in 20 of their last 22 games, but they've gone 15-7.

    There's something so cool about watching a bunch of kids win when almost no one outside of their own clubhouse thinks they've got a chance. It's a reminder that teams who turn their roster over to young players have no idea what will happen.

    "It's crazy, but hey, why not?" manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're playing well. We're pitching well. We're playing good defense. We're getting just enough runs to win. I'll take it every time."

    Regardless of how this season turns out, the Phillies have so much young talent that their fans have every right to be optimistic.

    There was already a feeling that things were headed in the right direction. In last year's hiring of Andy MacPhail as president of baseball operations, the Phils handed the keys to one of the game's most respected and accomplished executives. He methodically put together a smart, innovative front office.

    In Mackanin, Philadelphia has a manager who could be on his way to becoming a star in his own right.

    Most nights, Mackanin runs out a lineup with four or five position players age 25 or younger: third baseman Maikel Franco (23), left fielder Tyler Goeddel (23), center fielder Odubel Herrera (24), first baseman Tommy Joseph (24) and second baseman Cesar Hernandez (25).

    With a .901 OPS, Herrera has evolved into a true star in just his second full Major League season. He impacts games in every way possible.

But it's the pitching that has been a difference-maker. In Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.42 ERA) and Aaron Nola (3-2, 2.89 ERA) -- age 23 and 22, respectively -- the Phillies have two pitchers who have a chance to stabilize the rotation for years to come.

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is the oldest member of the rotation at 29. He's 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and has jump-started his career after three tough seasons with the Rays and D-backs.

Baseball is a relentlessly cruel sport, with a season long enough to expose every weakness. But for a team like the Phils, who keep on winning, something is revealed there as well.

"We believe that we belong here," Rupp said. "We have 25 guys in this clubhouse who believe we can win. I think it's shown."