Maybe the Phillies shouldn’t be the ones scared of their schedule. Maybe their schedule should be afraid of the Phillies.
When the 2021 season began, the Phils faced an uphill battle. The season’s first month was brought with playoff teams, potential playoff teams, and division rivals. For a squad that failed to reach the postseason for the ninth straight year last year, it was not exactly a schedule that one would assume would launch them into the stratosphere.
And yet, after the season’s first six games, three against Atlanta and three against the Mets, all at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies find themselves 5-1 with a 2.5 game lead over the Mets and Nationals and a three-game lead over the three-time defending NL East champion Braves. All those games were at home, and the first week of the season is no indication of anything other than the small sample size of six games in a 162-game crucible.
The old baseball axiom states you can never win a division title in April, but you can sure lose one. Well, as we witnessed in 1993 when the Phils went 17-5, getting off to a hot April can be a springboard that catapults them into the cat bird’s seat. And with a 5-1 start, they have the chance to do just that.
However, now the hard part begins.
The NL East is going to be tough all season. Despite winning five of their first six games for only the sixth time in team history, it by no means secures anything other than first place after 3.7% of the season has been completed. The Phils now must play their first road games of the season, starting with three games in Atlanta against a Braves team that will want revenge. Four games in New York against the Mets will follow, followed by a homestead against the best team in the NL Central, the St. Louis Cardinals (featuring Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt), and Gabe Kapler’s return to Philadelphia with the San Francisco Giants.
The Phillies then hit the road with a three-game series against the lowly Colorado Rockies, but then must travel to St. Louis for a tough four-game match-up against the Cards once again. The first game of another home series against the Mets closes out the month.
Of course, it’s too early to even know which teams on the schedule will be problems and which will be cupcakes. Many times during the course of a season, teams perceived to be “good” at the start of the season underachieve, and so-called “bad” teams end up being better than people think. Strength of schedule is interesting, but it’s not locked in stone. Heck, the NL East was thought to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball but right now, only one team has a winning record (your Philadelphia Phillies!).
The only thing the first week of the season has done is give the Phils a chance to get off to a great start. Getting off to a great start does now always equate with success. The ghosts of 1964, 1995 and 2018 remind us of that, but it does put them in a much stronger position to be in the mix later in the year. That the Phillies have done this when their greatest asset, their offense, has largely underperformed thus far, is especially encouraging.
This upcoming 7-game road trip in Atlanta and New York will be a truly interesting test for what has proven to be a very interesting teams one week into the 2021 MLB season.