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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17 comments

  1. Carmine Spellane

    June 20, 2014 08:35 AM

    I would be interested to see one of those graphs showing what the pitchers are throwing to Ryan Howard and where he is hitting the ball. Has he — at long last — made some adjustments? Are the pitchers simply making too many mistakes?
    Also sad to see Brignac go down. he is the type of role player that this team has been sorely lacking in recent years, except for Fransden whom Amaro just essentially threw away in order to keep Jayson Nix on the roster.
    I’m enjoying this run it while it lasts.

    • crow

      June 20, 2014 08:47 AM

      Frandsen is having a nothing season with the Nats: .241/.296/.310 with -0.2 WAR after a -0.1 WAR season last year. Grieve not for the loss of K.F.

  2. Chris S.

    June 20, 2014 08:50 AM

    It is too bad that Brignac went down. He was at one point a top 100 prospect in the Rays organization as recently as 2010. The eternal optimist in me was hoping he would be our next Jayson Werth. Still could happen, but who knows if he will have the 3B job when Asche comes off the DL.

    • Brian

      June 20, 2014 08:19 PM

      I was hoping that too. Then I looked at his k rate.

      Suffice it to say, its probably just a hot streak for the guy.

  3. Francisco (FC)

    June 20, 2014 10:12 AM

    I keep having a hard time using run differential as predictor. It may show a trend, and as more data accumulates it becomes better at telling you what kind of team you’re looking at but as of now the Phillies have a -21 run differential,

    a week ago (June 12th) they were at -40
    the week before that (June 5th) they were at -54
    the week before that (May 30th) they were at -30.

    At what point do we accumulate enough data to say: There’s a clear trend here? I think it’s too early to use run differential in the season to indicate where the team is headed (even if we all know it’s not really going anywhere). Right now it’s changing a lot week to week with no clear indication of it moving solidly in a specific direction.

  4. SteveH

    June 20, 2014 10:15 AM

    Bill,

    I want to preface this by saying I do not believe this will happen. I am not drinking the Amaro kool aid. I am just looking for an opinion from you and anyone else. Lets say for argument sake the Phillies forget that they are supposed to be bad. Lee comes back strong and they end up a playoff team. Lets also speculate that they do not make any deadline deals.
    I think this team doing that would be detrimental to the Phillies as a whole because I think they would still think it is ok to give massive bad contracts and keep signing older players. It would be like validating the way they’ve done business in the past and would not teach them a damn thing. Thoughts?

    • Chris S.

      June 20, 2014 10:28 AM

      I think the Phillies have learned their lesson with big expensive contracts to veteran players. They didn’t go out and get Ellsbury or McCann or any other high priced pitcher for a lot of years. Instead they went out and got Byrd on a two year deal and Burnett on a one year deal with an option for a second. Those were good deals at the time, but it definitely helps the team stay more competitive this year and possibly next year as well.

  5. JD

    June 20, 2014 11:36 AM

    I’m trying to find a stat that’s more meaningless than run differential, but I can’t

      • Ben

        June 20, 2014 02:40 PM

        For the sake of the Pitcher W-L argument, all runs/hits/walks are not made equal. I think it is not appropriate to take the game situation out of the argument altogether. This completely takes away the “factors” of stress, anxiety, and competitive nature that are more important in determining a success of an athlete-team than individual accomplishment. I would rather have a pitcher than can hold onto a give up 4 runs over seven innings in an early April blowout as well as 3 runs over eight innings to hold onto a 4-3 win in a late September pennant race over a pitcher who give up one run in said blowout April win but loses 5-4 in that September game. xFIP may indicate pitcher two to be better as being in the pennant race in out of the pitcher’s control, but I’d rather take a pitcher who delivers QS’s and keeps more leads over one who goes shutdown one game then gets ripped the next.even if advanced metrics indicate the latter may be superior independent of game situation. Pitcher W-Ls an imperfect but indicative statistic of who handles the pressure of holding onto leads, probably the most important thing for a pitcher to do on any given night.

    • steve bedrosian

      June 20, 2014 01:25 PM

      100% agree.

  6. awh™

    June 20, 2014 02:39 PM

    There is no intrigue whatsoever until the Phillies at least get back to .500.

  7. Tom

    June 20, 2014 04:24 PM

    I don’t understand the “hold yer horses” mentality of some fans. Honestly who cares. I’m on the bandwagon right now and am running my mouth to my non-phillies fan friends as we speak…after the next 3 game losing streak to a bad team i’ll have all the phillies traded, ruben fired, and new owners in place…such is the definition of a fan. Nothing, I mean nothing, is worse than the pontificating fan. You know…the guys who never get happy after a winning streak but always play the “i told you so” card after a losing streak. If you’re always a positive no matter what and cheer when your team loses then move to St. Louis…if you’re always negative and waiting for the next losing streak then move to florida and don’t go to games like all their major sports teams have…if you’re happy when they win and mad when they lose stay. BTW…as a math teacher I find the statistics talk awesome. We’re developing a sports stats type of class as an alternative for kids not on the calc track. This site gives an incredible explanation of the stats, what they’re used for, and why some are/are not useful

    • Bill Baer

      June 20, 2014 05:42 PM

      Tom, thanks for the kind words. The point of this blog, however, is not to provide a fan’s perspective, but to provide an unbiased, analytical perspective. I appreciate that fans may not care about balancing immediate gains with future sacrifices, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      • Peter

        June 21, 2014 01:03 PM

        Run differential seems like a good predictor of what a team’s record should be based on past performance. Is it fair to compare this team to one that allowed Manship, Garcia, et al. to pitch? Run differential will be predictive if nothing changes but the bullpen seems like it gave up a ton of runs early on, contributed by pitchers who are no longer on the active roster. I didn’t look into this a ton, just a thought.

  8. Bob

    June 20, 2014 09:01 PM

    Mediocre to poor teams are inconsistent. They will go on runs and then prolonged droughts. We saw the ups and downs at the beginning of this year. We saw the same ups and downs last year. Remember right after the All Star break last year when we we close to the division lead? Then remember when the team went into a horrendous funk and we didn’t move anyone until waiver time? The key is the droughts are more profound then the runs as we slip further away.

    To believe that these Phillies have the offensive firepower to turn things around, you must believe in Ryan Howard turning things around. For the past week and a half, he has. Even when he was mightily struggling, he had a good flyball rate, which was encouraging because it could translate to more power in the summer months. But you’re not just betting on Howard to turn it around, you’re betting on him remaining healthy. That hasn’t been the case since 2011.

    Until this team improves its run differential and gets to .500, I’m bearish on their prospects for this season.

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