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Some Tuesday Phillies Notes: Best Record in Baseball, Hamels' and Lidge's Resurgence, and the Improved Offense

I'm too busy today to formulate a full coherent post, but I have a few things to write about, so that's as good an excuse as any for a notes post.  So here are a few things to contemplate as you wait for the Phillies to move their magic number down to 6 tonight:

  • In the Phillies' 128 years of existence, they've lost more games than any professional sports franchise, they've been named the Quakers and the Blue Jays, they've had one of the greatest September swoons in baseball history along with one of the greatest September surges, but one thing they've never done is finish with the best record in baseball.  The closest they've come is 1977 when they were 1 game off the baseball-leading pace of the Kansas City Royals (funny to think that franchise was once good).

    However, with their incredible second half this year, the Phillies are knocking on the door of the best record in baseball.  Here are the top MLB standings as of the end of play last night:

    MLB W L PCT GB
    NY Yankees 91 59 0.607 -
    Minnesota 90 60 0.600 1
    Tampa Bay 89 60 0.597 1.5
    Philadelphia 90 61 0.596 1.5

    As the saying goes, the Phillies are 2 games back in the loss column, so the other teams can keep winning and outpace the Phillies. But, the Yankees have a very tough remaining schedule, and all three teams above the Phillies have very little incentive to keep up this pace. Plus, the Phillies have Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt, something no other team can touch. The Phillies just might squeak into the number 1 spot by the end of this thing.

  • Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge have had major turnarounds this year. But have you really appreciated just how amazing their turnarounds have been?

    Lidge ERA WHIP OPS K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
    Until July 31 5.57 1.67 0.875 11.6 6.0 2.1 0.327
    After July 31 0.92 0.71 0.337 9.6 2.7 0.0 0.174
    Hamels ERA WHIP OPS K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
    Until July 6 4.05 1.33 0.773 9.0 3.0 1.6 0.302
    After July 6 1.74 0.95 0.565 9.4 1.9 0.5 0.275

    Both have shown incredible improvement in the second half of their seasons. And they've done it in roughly the same ways. They've both struck out a ton of batters both early and late in the season, but they've both also cut down on their walks and home runs in significant ways. As a result, their OPS against are down dramatically, especially Lidge's. They've both also cut their batting average on balls in play, again especially Lidge. This indicates there may be a bounce back coming; however, if the reduced home runs and walks can be sustained, any bounce back won't be that terrible.

  • The Phillies' offense has struggled this year. If the team finishes with its current OPS of .744, although that's good for 5th in the NL, it would be its lowest team OPS since the starting nine included Johnny Estrada, Travis Lee, Marlon Anderson, and Doug Glanville. Yes, it would be the team's lowest OPS since the offensive glory days of 2001.

    But there's reason to believe the team will finish with a higher OPS than .744 this year, as the offense has turned it on in September. The Phillies' OPS reached its lowest point after play on August 30. After being shut out by the Dodgers that night, the Phillies' OPS was .726. (We have to go back to Rico Brogna, Mark Lewis, Desi Relaford, and Gregg Jefferies in 1998 to find a team OPS that low.)

    Since then, however, the offense has exploded. Here's the before and after comparison:

    AVG OBP SLG OPS R/G
    Until Aug. 30 0.254 0.323 0.403 0.726 4.6
    After Aug. 30 0.295 0.381 0.477 0.858 6.0

    Everything is better for the Phillies offense in this run. They're hitting, getting on base, and moving runners around. The result is an almost 33% increase in scoring.

  • And here's where the beginning of this notes post meets the end. If key pitchers are cruising and the offense is performing at a much higher level, there's hope that the Phillies can not only easily take the best record in the NL but also maybe even take the best record in baseball.