Phillies Win Fourth in a Row, Adding Intrigue to NL East Race

Behind seven and two-thirds strong innings from David Buchanan in Thursday night’s series opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phillies won their fourth consecutive game, gaining ground on the first-place Washington Nationals in a packed NL East. Ryan Howard homered and drove in three runs and Jonathan Papelbon nailed down his 17th save with a perfect ninth inning.

The Phillies were 11 games under .500 (25-36) and seven games out of first place as recently as June 8. They are now 33-38 and four games out of first place. As they did in July last season, the Phillies have fought their way to within arm’s reach of a winning record and play in a very weak division. Once assumed to be complete and utter sellers just two weeks ago, the Phillies¬†have a fighter’s chance of making something out of this season. ESPN still gives them only a 9.7 percent chance of making the playoffs at this point, but that’s a lot better than the one percent chance they had following a six-game losing streak between May 31 and June 5.

Should the Phillies sell? They’ll have another month to figure that out. No one absolutely must be moved at the trade deadline or else the Phillies’ future is ruined — as Michael Baumann explained, the Phillies don’t exactly have the most tradeable bunch — but their players are running on a clock called life, and as Cliff Lee‘s recent injury showed, a player’s value can vanish in a heartbeat, so it’s better to capitalize too soon than too late.

While the Phillies wouldn’t be awful for failing to move any players, they would be unforgiven if they were to give up anything of value to bolster the team for a run at the post-season. It goes without saying that J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco, and Jesse Biddle — among many others — are unmovable. Mortgaging the future for slightly improved odds is a mistake GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has already made, and one he should be very reticent to make again. If the Phillies are to make something of this season, they’re going to have to do it with the group as presently assembled.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that we are currently measuring the team at what is currently their peak. This is the first time the Phillies have won four games in a row all season, and the eight wins they’ve accrued over their last ten games has hinged on two strong starts by Kyle Kendrick, an out-of-his-mind Cole Hamels, a career-best start from David Buchanan, an otherworldly performance by the bullpen which may not be sustainable, timely hitting by the now-injured Reid Brignac, and Ryan Howard homering in three out of his last four games.

The Phillies still have the third-worst run differential in the National League. They still have 21 inter-division games leading up to the trade deadline. FanGraphs projects them to be six games under .500 the rest of the way. The run they’re on has been fun to watch, but we’re still likely looking at a team that should be trying to move a lot of players by the deadline.

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