Over the last two years of watching Phillies baseball one thing has become crystal clear. The Phils have a long way to go to catch up to the two teams standing in front of them in the National League East.
It is not a hot take to declare that the Atlanta Braves (90-55) and Washington Nationals (79-63) are both better than the Phillies (74-69). The Braves have a run differential of +102 this season, while the Nats are even better, at +117. The Phils are -6 (the Mets are +19, by the way).
A simple look at the numbers tells much of the story. But how much better are they?
Perhaps the scariest part of the 2019 season is that it appears the Phillies have lost ground to their intra-division rivals following an off-season that saw them add Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen.
After last night’s demoralizing 7-2 loss in their all-important series opener against Atlanta, the Phils fell to 6-7 against them this season, but are 3-7 in the 10 games since their season opening sweep that took place at the end of March. They have been outscored 96-68 by Atlanta this season for a -28 run differential, and that number balloons to -40 over their last 10 meetings.
That’s right, in the last 10 games, the Braves have won by an average of four runs a game. That comes on the heels of last year, when the Phils went 7-12 against Atlanta with a run differential of -31. That’s a combined record of 13-19 over the last two seasons and a run differential of -59 since 2018 against the Braves.
In 13 games against Atlanta, Phils’ pitchers have posted a 7.05 ERA.
They’ve allowed 28 home runs and Braves’ hitters have a collective OPS of .917 against the Phils in 2019. Given these numbers, it’s amazing the Phillies have won six games against them this year.
The numbers against Washington aren’t much better. The Phils are just 5-9 with a -29 run differential against the Nationals this year, following up a 2018 record of 8-11, when they had a run differential of -13. Combine the two seasons together and you have a 13-20 record and a -42 run differential since 2018.
In 16 games against the Nats this season, Phils pitchers have allowed a still-gross 5.11 ERA and an OPS of .801.
Folks, it’s ugly.
Offensively, the Phils have done OK against both teams. They have a .797 OPS against Atlanta, their 5th-best OPS against any opponent this season, and have hit 23 homers against Braves pitching, second only to the Mets *albeit in six fewer games). They’ve been less effective against the Nationals, with a .715 OPS and 15 dingers in 14 games. Last year, those numbers were reversed, with Phils hitters putting up a .761 OPS against Washington and a .628 OPS against Atlanta.
Last season, it felt like the Phillies were closer to these two teams than they are today. The Phils led the division until early August when Atlanta passed them during the Phils’ epic collapse. They were ahead of the Nationals for most of the season, a team that struggled mightily in ‘18 as they prepared to lose Harper to free agency, but saw Washington streak by them at the tail end of ‘18.
The Phils ended 2018 with some intriguing young pitching in Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin, a potential closer in Seranthony Dominguez, a young slugger to build around in Rhys Hoskins, pitching depth in AAA and a ton of money to spend in the off-season.
At the start of this year, when the spending spree had finished, most experts agreed the team was in great shape to win the NL East, including those at Fangraphs and ESPN.
I, too, picked the Phillies to win the NL East at the start of the season, but I was also a bit higher on the Braves than the oddsmakers in Vegas at the time.
Geez, I know the NL East is going to be tougher, and it's stupid to put any money on anything until the big guns are signed, but you should RACE to put money on the Braves over number. https://t.co/wTFW0CfDL7— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) January 22, 2019
Six months later, the Phils are clearly the third-best team in the NL East and there is lots more work to do this off-season if they want to catch up. They need to sign or trade for an impact starting pitcher (easier said than done) and add at least one or two more after that. The Nationals may lose Anthony Rendon, and it just so happens the Phillies have an opening at that particular position, so that could help. But they need to make a decision on Corey Dickerson and the rest of their outfield, and they need to revamp a bullpen that is in need of at least three high impact arms. Maybe more.
There will also be hard questions asked about the team’s entire direction, from the minor leagues, the big league bench, all the way to the front office.
The hard reality is it may not be possible to catch up to the Nats and Braves by next year. Despite an offense that has gotten better as the year has progressed, the Phillies still have a lot of work ahead of them, and those teams are fueled by young stars like Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Acuna, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies.
Last night’s game, as well as the previous 139 before it, showed that the chasm between Philadelphia and their chief rivals is larger than it was last season. And that’s perhaps the biggest worry to emerge from this disappointing 2019 season.