If you've found yourself talking about the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, you've likely been having one of many different conversations depending on what month you happened to be in. In April, you'd have been having a conversation about how the Phillies were primed to be historically awful and the Padres were primed to maybe push the Dodgers for the NL West crown. In June, you'd be talking about how the Phillies were playing right to expectations and how the Padres would have to start getting back to playing good baseball...or else. And in July, you'd probably be found marveling at the fact that both teams were deadline sellers, despite the Padres refusing to believe as much.
And now, in August, you might find yourself turning to whoever's next to you on the couch and saying: I wonder which team has a better 2016 outlook?
The fact that we can have the conversation is a testament to two things: first and foremost is the strange resurgence of this Phillies team that continues to win and win and win against good and not-so-good competition. Second, of course, is the fact that expectations can't ever really color reality completely.
The first point is something we're all familiar with by this point: this young and weird team can suddenly, in this year 1 AM (After Mackanin), hit and field, and even sometimes pitch. We saw all three tonight, as Cameron Rupp continued his stretch of strangely torrid hitting with his seventh home run off of the baroquely named Odrisamer Despaigne, raising his season line to 255/316/477. Friends, please do not adjust your monitor, you are actually seeing a completely reasonable line for a catcher from formerly marginal roster piece Cameron Rupp. And beyond Rupp, Aaron Altherr hit a triple off of Marc "Scrabble" Rzepczynski, marking his 7th major league hit and 7th extra base hit. Altherr is the first to have his first 7 hits go for extra bases (4 doubles, a triple, and two home runs) since some no one named Carlos Gonzalez. Oh, and a youngster who had a rough night against the Mets made good with an RBI double:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Those scrappy 30-something youngsters <a href="http://t.co/OdNa7AZmYW">pic.twitter.com/OdNa7AZmYW</a></p>— Hegelbon_Real (PAROD (@Hegelbon) <a href="https://twitter.com/Hegelbon/status/637213496376205312">August 28, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Beyond hittin', Aaron Altherr had a pretty lay-out catch to open up the defensive portion of the game, and Aaron Nola proved again why we're right to continue to be excited by him. Don't let the score fool you, for the lion's share of this game, the score was 2-1, with the only Padres damage coming from a home run by Justin Upton, and the Phillies' runs coming from an RBI groundout and a wild pitch-allowed run on home. Ian Kennedy was actually fairly masterful for the Padres, striking out seven (albeit while walking five) over 6.2 innings of 2 run ball, but Aaron Nola was just better, striking out six, walking two, and only allowing two hits over 7 innings. We'll forgive him for the one that left the yard.
All of this leads to our second point, that no offseason prediction is foolproof. Put differently, when it comes to predicting baseball, we're all fools. Count me among the prognosticators who thought the Padres and the White Sox, with their hyper-aggressive all-in offseasons, were primed for a postseason push. You'd think a team that added Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, and James Shields would be in a fairly good position to contend. And apparently you'd be wrong!
And while the host of folks, your gentle author included, who predicted the Phillies' awful season weren't wrong, there's something still off-putting about this hot streak that doesn't seem to end. Yes, of course, this game came after a four game losing stretch, and yes, of course, the Phillies still have the worst record in baseball. But the fact that we're left to scoreboard watch the race for the top overall pick next June is mindboggling, given where this team was two months ago.
There's nothing to say that the Phillies are actually as good as their last, say, 30 games would suggest. But there's everything to suggest that, for whatever reason, they're suddenly a better team than they were at the beginning of July. I don't believe in the theory of the toxic veterans poisoning the young players, nor do I think Ryne Sandberg was worth, like -40 wins, his badness notwithstanding. Similarly, I don't think the Padres were ever a true talent sub-500 team. And yet, here we are.
I guess my best guess is that the Phillies took some advice from an old friend and realized a truism of life: the game's easy, Harry.
<iframe src="http://www.fangraphs.com/graphframe.aspx?config=0&static=1129521&type=livewins&num=0&h=450&w=450&date=2015-08-28&team=Phillies&dh=0" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" height="450" width = "450" style="border:1px solid black;"></iframe><br /><span style="font-size:9pt;">Source: <a href="http://www.fangraphs.com/livewins.aspx?date=2015-08-28&team=Phillies&dh=0&season=2015">FanGraphs</a></span>