It hasn’t felt this good to be a Phillies fan in a long, long time. The Phillies have won eight straight, and they just swept the Mets to take over first place in the NL East. Zack Wheeler’s masterful performance on the day the team retired Roy Halladay’s number was the perfect finale to the perfect week. Our own John Stolnis put it best:
This was the most satisfying weekend to be Phillies fan in a decade.— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) August 8, 2021
Of course, with this being the Phillies, it’s hard not to feel a looming sense of dread. Eventually, they are going to lose again. Their next series is against the Dodgers, while the Mets are playing the lowly Nationals. To make matters worse, there’s still no timetable as to when Zach Eflin will return, and with Chase Anderson hitting the IL it’s unclear who the fifth starter will be. There are reasons to worry for sure. But my intention here isn’t to be a Debbie Downer. It’s the exact opposite. When the Phillies start to lose again, I want us to remember how good we felt about them this weekend, and I want everyone to keep in mind that there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about this team.
The stars are hot
This Phillies team has a lot of good players, and none have been better than Zack Wheeler and Bryce Harper. Wheeler is the best pitcher in baseball right now, and Harper is arguably the best hitter in the National League. And while they may be “hot” right now, it’s not just a matter of good luck. Wheeler and Harper have earned their success. Wheeler’s expected ERA ranks in the 95th percentile in baseball, while Harper’s expected wOBA ranks in the 98th percentile.
With Wheeler and Harper, there’s a genuine chance the Phillies could win the NL MVP and Cy Young Awards, and more importantly, there’s a genuine chance they could win the NL East.
The offense is real good, people
Bryce Harper has been otherworldly, but don’t forget that Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and Jean Segura are all excellent offensive players as well. Thanks to these five, the Phillies are the only team in the NL to have five qualified hitters with an OPS over .800 (although the Dodgers are very close).
Even better, the offense is deeper than just those five guys. Brad Miller is a middle of the order bat as long as he’s facing right-handed pitching. Alec Bohm too has actually been very good as of late. He has a 120 wRC+ since the beginning of June, and he’s been worth 1.0 fWAR in that time span.
With those seven guys, the Phillies have a definitively better offense than either the Mets or the Braves. Other than Pete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo, the Mets’ lineup isn’t much of a threat. The same is true for the Braves’ lineup after Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley.
The only major liabilities in the Phillies’ lineup are Didi Gregorius and Odúbel Herrera. Luckily, we’ve seen firsthand that this team can still thrive even when those two are dead weight. If either of them does improve down the stretch, it will only strengthen the Phillies offense. But if not, the rest of the lineup can shoulder the load. There may be plenty of questions about the Phillies’ pitching and defense, but this offense can carry the team to the postseason.
Reinforcements are coming
Yes, the Mets are missing Jacob deGrom and Francisco Lindor right now, perhaps their two best players. But the Phillies are missing some pretty important names too.
Andrew McCutchen is eligible to come off the injured list on Wednesday, in time for the second game of the Dodgers series. The team has yet to make a statement about his return, but according to Tom McCarthy on today’s broadcast, Cutch is feeling good and thinks he’ll be ready to come back soon. The Phillies have been spectacular this month, and they’ll only get better once McCutchen — who has a .964 OPS and 13 home runs since the start of June — returns to the lineup.
Rhys Hoskins also missed out on the Mets series. He has yet to be placed on the IL, which is a good sign. Hopefully after the off-day today, he’ll be ready to go in time for the Dodgers series. Like, McCutchen, Hoskins will be another welcome reinforcement to the lineup. He has a .962 OPS with 12 home runs over his past 40 games.
It remains unclear when he’ll return, but when he does, Zach Eflin will be the most significant reinforcement the team has coming. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the eight-game winning streak is that the Phillies managed to win two bullpen games (technically Ranger Suarez starts, but the bullpen pitched a combined 12.1 innings) and a Chase Anderson start. Having a guy like Eflin, who can reliably pitch six innings per start, will help the bullpen tremendously and give the Phillies a better chance of winning every five days.
And speaking of the bullpen, the Phillies also have a ton of bullpen arms working their way back to the team: Sam Coonrod, Connor Brogdon, Bailey Falter, and Seranthony Dominguez. Coonrod and Brogdon both have very solid peripheral numbers this season, and have proven to be capable in high leverage spots. Unfortunately, they’re both dealing with elbow injuries now. Hopefully they can both return and pitch some meaningful innings in August and September, but I’m keeping my expectations low for now.
Bailey Falter is on his way back, but there’s no way to know how badly his time on the COVID list affected his arm. He’s officially been on a rehab assignment since July 31, which isn’t a great sign. Lastly, Seranthony Dominguez has incredible upside, but he is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. If he pitches any major league innings at all this year, it will count as a successful season for him. So, all in all, I’m not relying on any of those relievers they way I’m counting on McCutchen, Hoskins, and Eflin, but all four of them still have the chance to make a very positive impact down the stretch.
This Phillies team will lose again, perhaps as soon as tomorrow night (they haven’t fared too well against Max Scherzer in the past). This Phillies team is flawed, and they don’t have apparent fixes to all their problems. But this Phillies team showed us this week that they are more than capable of winning the NL East anyway. There are 50 games left this season, and the Phillies are going to be in it until the end. Let’s get excited.