Maybe it’s the Sixers and Flyers playing in the post-season right now. Or maybe it’s thinking about the reason the Eagles have the 32nd pick in the NFL draft next week. Or maybe it’s just enjoying watching good baseball for the first time in over half a decade.
Whatever it is, it’s beginning to look a lot like the Phillies are a playoff team this year.
Yeah, I know. It’s incredibly early in the season. Just over 10% of games have been played, and we are only 1 game into an important early-season home stand.
But whatever. I don’t care. I’m all in right now on the Phillies. This is a playoff team we’re watching. How do I know? Several reasons.
First, the Phillies are off to a strong start, the likes of which has been rare for them this century. Sitting at 11-7 after 18 games, since 2000, the Phillies have equaled or bettered that start only 3 other times. If you add in the two other times the Phillies had winning records after 18 games, this is good company for the team to keep:
2001 - 12-6 start, finished 86-76, 2 games out of first place in the NL East
2003 - 10-8 start, finished 86-76, 5 games out of the NL wild card
2009 - 10-8 start, finished 93-69, won NL East, lost World Series
2010 - 11-7 start, finished 97-65, won the NL East, lost NLCS
2011 - 12-6 start, finished 102-60 (best record in franchise history, won NL East, lost NLDS
Second, the starting pitching is looking great early on. They are the best starting rotation in the NL according to fWAR. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have outpitched Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, even though Nola and Arrieta are showing signs of being a two-headed monster at the top of the rotation. And this is all without Jerad Eickhoff, who should be back from the DL early next month. If Eickhoff comes back strong and the others keep up most of what they’re doing, the Phillies rotation could be dominant all year.
Third, the team’s hitting is more middle of the pack, but all signs point to it improving as the year goes on. J.P. Crawford is going to get better, Carlos Santana is not going to have a sub-.150 BABIP all year long, and Jorge Alfaro probably won’t strike out in almost 50% of his at bats over the course of the season. These guys are going to get better, while the guys who have been hitting during the early season are mostly the guys we expect to carry the offense anyway. The Phillies’ offense might not be the best in the league, but it will be good throughout the year.
Fourth, the Phillies’ bullpen is also middle of the road so far, but that’s without their two big off-season signings, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, both of whom should be back soon, as might Mark Leiter, Jr. Putting those three arms in the bullpen should have a domino effect (less Hoby Milner and Drew Hutchison please!) and might even help Hector Neris pull out of his early season slump as the team’s “closer.”
Finally, Gabe Kapler has what it takes to manage this team to success. He had a famously rocky start (for which I was one of his chief apologists, as many of you pointed out in the comments and on Twitter), but since that disastrous 1-4 stretch, the team is 10-3. He appears to learn from his mistakes and know how to handle his players. His irrepressibly upbeat attitude is infectious and his strategy decisions are paying off. After all, the team is winning.
Look, I know it’s just April 20. I’m no idiot. But, from where we sit right now, this team is looking like a playoff team. And even if I’m wrong, I like it.