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How the Phillies avoided 100 losses

100 losses sure looked like a done deal earlier in the season, but now it’s impossible. How’d the Phillies do it?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

After last night’s win, the Phillies will once again avoid losing 100 games on the season. For a franchise that has had its fair share of terrible seasons during my lifetime, it hasn’t had a 100-loss season since 1961 (ironically, the last before the seasons were expanded to 162 games).

In 2015, the Phillies came as close as possible without accomplishing the feat when they went 63-99. That record is still possible this year if the team loses its remaining 4 games.

But, there was a time earlier this season when it looked like a foregone conclusion that the Phils would lose 100 games. It’s pretty hard to remember, but the Phillies evenly split their first 22 games. Since then, however, they’ve gone 52-84. And at times during the season, they were downright terrible.

Here’s a chart of the team’s expected losses based on their win percentage after each game since their 11-11 start:

As you can see, from the 37th game of the season (on May 17) through the 144th (September 12), the Phils were on pace to lose 100 games. Over the last 14 games, though, the team has been projected to lose under 100. Currently, they are projected to finish with 97 losses, which would be a 2-2 record over the last 4 games.

How did the Phils go from being projected to lose 111 games after play on June 21 to “only” 97 now? The answer is that since June 21, they’ve played much better ball. Compare before and after:

After June 21 the Phillies didn’t turn into the best team in baseball, but they did transform from the worst team in baseball to, well, a downright mediocre one. Since then, their offense has produced more, and their pitching has limited opponents’ production better. The result? They’ve given up just 8 more runs than they’ve scored (rounding makes it appear per game as the same amount).

So what turned the season around? It doesn’t take a genius to see that the team is different with the young blood on the field. But, if you want to point to one thing, it’s the 71st game of the season. On June 22, Aaron Nola took the mound. It was his seventh start since returning from the disabled list on May 21. In his first six starts, he had been all over the place. He had two dominant 1-run outings, but then four clunkers. Over those six starts, he posted a 4.89 ERA, opponents had hit .244/.301/.378 against him, and the Phils were 1-5 in his starts.

On June 22, that all changed. With that start, Nola started his string of dominance that lasted through mid-August. Over 10 starts, he had a 1.71 ERA, opponents hit .196/.253/.312 against him, and the team went 7-3 in hist starts.

Of course, it’s not all Aaron Nola. As the chart above shows, the entire team — both hitters and pitchers — has played much better since June 22. Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford, and the rest of the youngsters are playing better than Michael Saunders, Jeremy Hellickson, Tommy Joseph, and the others they replaced were. That’s been the key to the turn around since June 22.

Given the youth on the roster, this drastic difference from the first part of the season to the second should give us even more reason for excitement going into 2018. And it certainly is the reason the Phillies will once again finish with double-digit losses for the season.