Relentless - re·lent·less (rəˈlen(t)ləs): Oppressively constant, incessant. Showing no abatement of severity, intensity or strength. Phillies batters 1-8.
Sure, it’s very, very early in the season but as is, it’s going exactly the way it was drawn up in Matt Klentak’s front office. Phillies fans couldn’t be happier as it appears they’re in a dream world where exactly what is supposed to happen actually does happen - a “Hardball Utopia” for the City of Brotherly Love.
Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen have two homers each, the bottom of the lineup is producing, runs are being scored all over and the pitching and defense are holding up. And not only are the Phils the only unbeaten team in the sport but in doing so they’ve made the Braves the only winless team left.
When you lift up the hood and look underneath at the mechanics of everything you can see how perfect it all is. And with those results there’s an aspect of “expectancy,” where while the results are great they may not be an anomaly based on what was originally expected.
The Phillies have hit eight total home runs and half of them have been with men on base which may not seem like that big a deal until you consider the four that were solo shots all happened to lead off an inning. That means that in 100% of the home runs that could have been multi-run home runs were multi-run home runs. This is of course a function of having men on base, which was another pre-season objective of the team.
After three games the Phillies have the third best on-base-percentage in the National League at .384. They have 20 walks and while that’s only tied for 4thin baseball it’s extremely impressive when you consider that they’ve done it in the 6thfewest plate appearances (three games with only eight innings of at bats). They actually lead all of baseball in base-on-balls percentage at 17.9%.
They’re accumulating these walks via what is typically very long plate appearances. They are third in baseball at pitches per plate appearance which is another stat they were projected to be among the leaders in. There’s not a quick, easy out in the lineup and it gets really stressful for opposing pitchers in the three/four spots where Harper and Hoskins possess the ability to be extremely patient while exhibiting the ability to absolutely crush anything close to a mistake. And teams are going to have to pitch to at least one of them and that was evidenced when they intentionally walked Harper and then Hoskins hit a grand slam.
In game one there was an occasion where Jean Segura had made it to third with no outs and Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and JT Realmuto due up. The pitcher was able to stress through Harper and Hoskins and then walked JTR. It took 18 pitches to get through those three batters with both Hoskins and JTR pushing the count to full. The pitcher thinks he’s out of the proverbial woods, right? Not so. The sixth-hole hitter Odubel Herrera steps in and while he’s hitting primarily sixth this year he’s been a top of the order hitter most of his career. Herrera swings at the first pitch and knocks it back up the middle for an RBI single, moving Realmuto to 2nd. Next up is the seven hitter Cesar Hernandez and again, while he’s at the bottom of the order this season he’s actually been a lead-off hitter for most of his career and he swings at the first pitch and brings JTR around to score.
Yes, you struck out Bryce Harper. And then yeah, you struck out Rhys Hoskins. You maybe pitched around JTR a bit because you think you can handle the bottom of the order easier but it took you 18 pitches and now, you think, you’re through the hard part. Two pitches later and you let two more runs score. The best laid plans… Amiright?
It’s one thing to reach base but it’s a wholly different thing to score them and by having such a deep lineup the Phillies are excelling at taking advantage of their scoring opportunities. They lead baseball in batting average, OBP and slugging with men on and are second in OPS at a ridiculous 1.425.
They’re also making those free passes hurt. Of the 20 walks and 2 hit-by-pitches that have reached base for the Phillies a whopping 10 have scored. Two of the three intentional walks and both HBP’s have been turned into runs. This is obviously extremely important because it lets opposing teams know that you cannot use the free pass as an effective defensive tactic against this team; you’ll have better luck pitching to Harper or Realmuto or even Franco than just giving them the base.
Again, it’s early. Only three games in. But it can’t be emphasized enough that this is all part of a grand design. What we’re seeing in these early contests is probably closer to the new norm than it is to an aberration. This is the realization of a strategy, not fortuitous phenomena or happy accident. And it is AWESOME to experience.