The 2021 Phillies season has had its share of ups and downs, its high points and low points, and fans have been riding the .500 land yacht all season long. Even as they enter their two-game series in the Bronx against the Yankees, they sit at 47-45, just two games above water.
Nevertheless, they are playing their best ball of the season. They have gone 10-4 in July, the best record in baseball. They have won four straight series for the first time since June of 2018, and they’ve won those series against some pretty good teams (Padres and Red Sox) as well as a team that has had their number in recent years (Marlins).
They also enter the final two weeks before the trade deadline in perhaps the best position of any team in the NL East. Their schedule gets significantly easier the rest of the way (.487 opponents’ winning percentage) while the division leading Mets’ schedule gets much tougher (.507 opponents’ winning percentage), the fourth-hardest in baseball, according to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki.
If you ask Baseball Reference, things are trending the Phils’ way.
Injuries are also trending the Phillies’ way. The Mets have lost Jacob deGrom and Francisco Lindor for an undetermined amount of time (Lindor’s oblique injury could cost him 4-6 weeks). Atlanta’s star outfielder, Ronald Acuna, Jr., tore his ACL and is gone for the season. The Nationals have been without Stephen Strasburg all season and Kyle Schwarber is still MIA, and even Marlins young outfielder Jazz Chisholm is on the 10-day IL.
Meanwhile, the Phils have gotten healthier. Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius are in the lineup together and healthy, for the first extended time all season. Bryce Harper’s back hasn’t flared up lately, and the rest of the cogs are all functioning at normal capacity. The front of the starting rotation has remained blissfully uninjured, and even the bullpen, despite their ups and downs, isn’t missing anyone important.
Now is the time for the Phillies to take advantage of what seems a parting of the waves in front of them.
Over the next two weeks, the Phils will play the struggling Yankees for two games, then host two consecutive four-game series against the Braves and Nationals. They then finish up the month of July with a road series against the woeful Pirates in Pittsburgh. If the Phillies go 9-3 or 8-4 over this 12-game stretch, will that be enough to convince Dave Dombrowski to go hard after a big upgrade in center field (Byron Buxton, Kris Bryant or Starling Marte), or perhaps expend some prospects to land one of the premier closers on the trade market (Craig Kimbrel or Richard Rodriguez)?
An even bigger question is whether John Middleton will go over the luxury tax. Is it worth it just to win a weak NL East? Should they give up a young player (Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard, Bryson Stott) or two if it means landing a couple valuable rentals for 2021 alone?
Yes. The time for the Phillies to win is now.
Middleton did not hire Dave Dombrowski to sit around and build a farm system for the next five years. They hired Joe Girardi to manage postseason games. The Philadelphia Phillies possess the fifth-largest payroll in baseball, a $184 million investment that Middleton would be foolish not to go over the tax to get into the postseason. After all, once you make the playoffs, anything can happen, especially with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin at the top of the rotation and a lineup that can keep up with anyone in the NL.
But the Phils need to take advantage of the soft underbelly of their schedule over the next 10 days. The 2021 season will be decided in this next fortnight, for better or worse. If they truly have shed the “big loser energy” that was dragging them down as recently as a couple weeks ago, they need to take care of business against the little fish on their schedule.
Otherwise, it’s just the same old Phillies, whose postseason drought will reach an even decade.
On Episode 488 of Hittin’ Season, hear Liz Roscher, Justin Klugh and I break down their Phils’ recent hot streak and what Dombrowski could (and should) do at the Trade Deadline!