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Hittin’ Season 198: Phillies creeping closer to 1st place

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On Episode 198 of “Hittin’ Season,” host John Stolnis recaps the Phils two-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles and investigates the possibility of a trade for Manny Machado.

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Philadelphia Phillies Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, you have to wonder how the Phillies are doing it.

How are the Phils, a team whose top hitter is Odubel Herrera, a guy with a .276 batting average, a team in which Jorge Alfaro, Carlos Santana, Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams and Andrew Knapp are all hitting under .250, doing it?

How are the Phils, a team in which two of their regular starters, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, feature ERAs of 4.69 and 4.66, doing it? How are the Phils, a team with a bullpen ERA of 4.15 that is 6th-worst in the 15-team National League, with a 9th inning ERA of 4.96 that is 3rd-worst in baseball, doing it?

How are the Phils, with a team defense that is 2nd-to-last in Defensive Runs Saved this year (-67) and has 62 errors committed that are 4th-most in baseball, doing it?

Somehow, despite the headwinds, the Phillies have a record of 47-37 and are 10 games over .500. They only have a +10 run differential, giving them a Pythagorean W-L record of 43-41. The numbers say the Phils are overachieving. They are 18-7 in one-run games and 6-1 in extra innings, and the worry is those stats will start reversing themselves.

However, there are reasons to believe this is for real.

First, the Phils have suffered a number of blowouts this year, which makes the run differential look worse than it probably is. They lost 15-2 to Atlanta in the first series of the season, 10-1 to the Braves at the end of April, 12-4 to the Cardinals in mid-May, 12-4 and 12-3 to the Brewers on back-to-back nights in early June, 13-2 to the Brewers a few nights later in Milwaukee, and 17-7 to the Nationals on June 29.

That’s a run differential of -68 in seven games. In the team’s other 77 games, they’ve outscored their opponents by 78 runs (although one of those victories was a 20-1 win over the Marlins in April).

The Phillies also just finished off the most brutal part of their schedule and held their own in doing so. When they started a four-game series against the Dodgers on May 28, they played 10 straight series against teams with winning records (32 games). They started off slowly, but finished up by winning 4 of their last 5 series and went 16-16 in those 32 games.

They played the best of the best and came out on the other side with their feet still under them.

Manager Gabe Kapler has to get loads of credit for how he’s navigated an inconsistent offense, a couple starters were have been inconsistent, and a bullpen that has made close, late leads an adventure.

They did get great production from Rhys Hoskins and, at times, Odubel Herrera. Others kicked in some big hits as well, and Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin has carried the team of late. Seranthony Dominguez has been a rock, and Pat Neshek is back.

That is how they are doing it — some outstanding performances, some luck, and some good ‘ol fashioned managing. That’s how the Phils are just 1.5 games out of first place.

On Episode 198 of Hittin’ Season, host John Stolnis breaks down the Phils-Orioles series and talks about the Manny Machado rumors. He also talks to former presidential speechwriter Curt Smith about his new book Presidents and the Pastime, which examines the role past presidents have had on baseball over the years. Also, a retrospective on the Phillies career of Shane Victorino.