Hey, it's been a fun couple weeks to watch the hometown baseball team, huh?
Yeah, this Phillies team has been something else since the All Star Break. They've gone 12-3 over their last 15 games, scored 80 runs (tied for fifth in MLB), are slashing .289/.339/.449 as a team, with a wOBA of .342 (sixth in baseball), a wRC+ of 117 (fifth in MLB), 33 doubles (fourth), and an OPS of .789 (sixth).
The pitching has been pretty good lately too. The starters' ERA is 3.84, 14th in the Majors. But the bullpen has been even better, living up to pre-season expectations with a 2.01 ERA that is third best in baseball. Relievers have stranded a league high 85.2% of baserunners in the second half, and their ground ball rate of 57.9% is second-best.
It's been a lot more fun watching this team play with energy and passion over the last two weeks-plus. In fact, they look like a totally different team than the one who sleep-walked through the first half.
Which brings up the interesting question, how much of this is the result of the departure of Ryne Sandberg and the introduction of Pete Mackanin as the Phils' new skipper?
It's hard to say, obviously. The eye test tells you that the Phillies are playing with more energy, more fight, and are simply producing more than they were. Of course, every team looks more energized when the offense is averaging five runs a game.
The introduction of youth has definitely helped. I don't know whether Cesar Hernanez' .278/.354/.359 slash line is sustainable (I suspect it isn't), but it's certainly a darn bit better than what Chase Utley had been producing before he got hurt. Odubel Herrera has been particularly hot at the plate, as has Maikel Franco and Domonic Brown. Even Ryan Howard has gotten into the act here in the second half, hitting .327/.407/.577 with an OPS of .984, three home runs and 15 RBIs in 14 games.
But it would be silly to think that, upon his arrival, Mackanin simply waved a magic wand and everything all came together. In fact, Mackanin's Phils went 3-13 in the 16 games before the All Star break, including losing streaks of six and five games.
And everything looks better when a team is winning. Suddenly, the manager's decisions all seem smarter, the players suddenly look better, and the team has new found "energy" from seemingly out of nowhere.
But those inside the locker room have noted a completely different style of managing between Sandberg's no-nonsense approach and Mackanin's more laid-back style. Perhaps players are responding to that.
It's also possible the Phils' recent string of high quality play won't continue. That would be both good and bad, of course, as losing means a better shot at getting the No. 1 pick in next year's MLB Draft. But this continued winning could also force the front office into considering Mackanin for the full-time gig next year.
If the Phillies sign a new general manager (as we assume they will), it's likely that GM will want his own manager. And perhaps a manager with a more established pedigree and a bigger name will become available and interested, in which case the Phils may have no choice but to go in that direction.
But Mackanin and his players are certainly doing all they can to make a decision difficult for the front office, whoever they may be.