The Red-Hot Phillies Are Five(!) Games Over .500
In late December, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote that baseball had a tanking problem. He singled out the Phillies, Braves and Brewers as three teams that weren’t really trying to be good in 2016. “This practice is a growing source of conversation and controversy in front offices,” he wrote, “with some executives believing that MLB and the players’ association need to step in and do something to reduce or eliminate the incentive to lose.”
He ended up writing a follow-up column singling out the Phillies — some local writers didn’t like Olney’s first column — and adding that “the concern about this kind of thing among some club executives is growing.”
Those club executives were right to be angry at the Phillies, but for the wrong reasons: It’s May 2nd. The Phillies have won six straight games and are 15-10. If the season ended today, the Phillies would be in a play-in game for the final Wild Card spot. (It would be really weird if the season ended after 25 games, however.)
Bringing up Olney’s columns isn’t done to pick on him. It’s to point out that the Phillies were expected to be so bad this season they were accused of being like the Sixers. But 15 percent of the way into the season, only three teams in baseball have more wins than the Phillies.
What’s weird is the Phillies are doing it with almost no offense at all. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera are the only starters are who have been average or better at the plate. (Carlos Ruiz, who has played in 10 games, and super-sub Andres Blanco have also been solid offensively.) Yesterday, the Phillies started three non-pitchers with averages below the Mendoza Line. But the pitching has been great, the defense has been solid and the Phillies are somehow five games over .500 so far.
If you’re thinking this might be flukey, well, it is. The Phillies have been outscored by 17 runs this year, one of only two teams with a winning record this year to have been outscored. The Inquirer’s Bob Brookover compiled some historical data that showed the Phillies are one of the worst teams, run differential-wise, to ever finish April with a winning mark. The Phillies’ Pythagorean record, which calculates the expected win-loss mark for a team based on its run differential, is the reverse of what they’ve achieved so far: 10-15.
It’s not quite so dire, though. The Phillies lost games to Washington 9-1 and 8-1, and lost a game to the Mets 11-1. Other than that, they’ve pretty much been in every game, and they’ve played the second-toughest schedule in the majors so far. They have yet to play the 6-18 Atlanta Braves. But with two really solid teams, the Mets and the Nats, in the NL East, it seems unlikely the Phillies will be able to continue at this pace.
So their hot start has been flukey, but who cares? The Phillies are 15-10 in early May. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.