These numbers are encouraging for Phillies

August 17th, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies leave Monday night for a four-city, 10-game road trip against the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Braves and Nationals.

It is their first road trip of the season. They played just one game in New York earlier this month.

The Phillies are 8-9, which says a few things. First, the cardboard cutouts at Citizens Bank Park aren’t nearly as intimidating as real Phillies fans -- although the crew behind the center-field gates is trying to create some sort of home-field advantage. Second, it shows that the Phillies are flawed, which starts and mostly ends with the bullpen. For a while, the Phillies pointed to their one-week layoff for the bullpen’s ineffectiveness, but it should be past that by now. The Marlins’ bullpen has a 3.91 ERA in 12 games since it returned to action.

Still, Phillies manager Joe Girardi sounded encouraged following the sweep of the Mets this weekend.

“I think our starting pitching has been really good,” he said. “I think the fight in our offense and the ability to come back has been really good. And it seemed like we had some sense of finding where guys worked in the bullpen, which I'm really encouraged about. You need everyone to contribute, but everyone kind of did their job this weekend.”

If the season ended Sunday, the Phillies would miss the playoffs. But the final three teams to make it based on winning percentage (Milwaukee, Arizona and St. Louis) have .500 records. The Phillies are right there -- if they can shore up the bullpen, they have no reason not to make it.

Dynamic duo

No wonder wants the Phillies to lock up beyond this this season.

Harper and Realmuto have been arguably the best two-punch combo in baseball. Harper is batting .364 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and a 1.165 OPS in 17 games. His 217 OPS+ is 19 points higher than his career high in 2015, when he was the unanimous choice for National League MVP. Harper ranks seventh in baseball with a 1.2 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Realmuto, meanwhile, is batting .300 with eight home runs, 20 RBIs and a 1.071 OPS. His 184 OPS+ is 58 points higher than his career high in 2018. He ranks 13th in baseball with a 1.0 WAR, according to FanGraphs.

leads baseball with 1.8 WAR. and are second, each with 1.6 WAR.

Yastrzemski (23 games), Tatis (23 games) and Lowe (22 games) have played more games than Harper (17 games) and Realmuto (16 games). Spread Harper’s and Realmuto’s current pace over 23 games, and Harper has 1.6 WAR and Realmuto has 1.4 WAR.

Bullpen 2.0

The Phillies’ bullpen is the biggest concern, despite a solid weekend against the Mets. It posted a 2.79 ERA (three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings) in the three-game sweep. It allowed nine hits and three walks and struck out 10.

But Phillies relievers have an 8.77 ERA, which is more than two earned runs higher than the 29th ranked Giants (6.52 ERA). Batters are barreling balls against the Phillies’ bullpen. Its hard-hit rate (42.9 percent) is second only to the Cubs (43.3 percent), according to Statcast. Its .428 wOBA is 58 points higher than the Giants.

Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price talked a couple weeks ago about the team needing somebody from its Bullpen 2.0 to step up, meaning somebody outside , , and . But even that group has struggled, outside of Álvarez. He has not allowed a run in 5 1/3 innings over six appearances.

The Phillies did not address the bullpen in the offseason, signing only Hunter to a free agent big league contract. If the Phillies miss the playoffs, it likely will be because the bullpen did not do its job. Any criticism won’t be in hindsight.

Signs of life?

has gotten a lot of attention because of his slow start. He is still looking for his first home run, but he is batting .308 (8-for-26) with three doubles, four RBIs and an .861 OPS in his past seven games. He is hitting the ball harder (average exit velocity 92 mph) and getting the ball in the air more (average launch angle 27.5 degrees) since Aug. 9.

Compare that to Hoskins’ first nine games. Hoskins batted .111 (3-for-27) with one double, one RBI and a .533 OPS. His average exit velocity (86.3) and launch angle (19 degrees) were below his career averages (89.6 mph) and (22.6 degrees).

Maybe Hoskins’ recent play will lead to something.

If it does, the Phillies’ offense could really take off. It already ranks sixth in baseball in runs per game (5.29). It is third in on-base percentage (.343) and third in slugging percentage (.460). If you prefer more modern metrics, the Phillies are first in expected batting average (.279) and expected weighted on-base average (.364) and second in expected slugging percentage (.490) and wOBA (.340).

If they get there …

In 2020, each Wild Card series is a best-of-three series. If the Phillies get there, they should like their chances with Aaron Nola (2-1, 2.05 ERA) and Zack Wheeler (3-0, 2.81 ERA) each getting a start. Zach Eflin (0-1, 3.60 ERA) has been impressive in his first two starts, generating a ton of weak contact and 15 strikeouts in 10 innings.