The Phillies Are Suspiciously Watchable Right Now
For what it’s worth, which may not be a whole lot, the Phillies are having a damn good spring.
After topping the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday afternoon by a score of 5-2, the Phillies secured an 11-4-2 record. Their winning percentage of .733 is good for third place in the Grapefruit League as of this moment.
Naturally, that rank means about as much as the Jumbo Screen bobblehead races at Citizen’s Bank Park. The correlation between a team’s performance in March and its output in April is tenuous at best.
But the current level of play is not entirely without merit. Whatever time of year it is, these guys are mashing the ball right now.
They’re scoring runs in bunches. They’ve crossed home plate 101 times in two weeks, the third best mark in both Grapefruit and Cactus play.
Generally speaking, the Phils are piling up extra base hits: 41 doubles, 6 triples, and 23 homers. The last of these ties them for 3rd overall in Spring Training play. All on his own, 3rd baseman Maikel Franco has cranked six dingers, which is both the top mark in baseball and one better than the entire Miami Marlins franchise has managed so far.
On the other side of the ball, the Phil’s share a team ERA of 3.64, 4th best in baseball, a 1.32 WHIP, which is tied for 7th best, and 142 Ks, which is second best in March.
Again, that and a dollar’ll get you a PBR Tall Boy at Frenchy’s Tiki Pavillion.
Obviously, the spring squad is an indefinable mashup of inevitable big leaguers, players bound for the minors, and those still fighting for a landing spot among the former and not so much the latter. Just this past Monday, the Phillies sent a handful of their most exciting future stars to the minors. As expected, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and baseball’s #5 overall prospect, J.P. Crawford, will get the rest of their spring reps in at the AA and AAA levels.
But there are a few guys that you should plan on getting to know better, assuming that you largely tuned out while last year’s hopeless season sputtered to completion. Among them, Franco is slashing .367/.424/.967; Odubel Herrera, .391/.391/.609.; Darin Ruf, .300/.382/.733; Cesar Hernandez, .353/.436/.441; and Peter Bourjos, a surprising .375/.444/.583.
All these guys will begin the season as starters. This is exactly what you want your starters to look like in March.
Obviously, we ought not to waste too much time fixating on these numbers other than to suggest that the fellas who will take the field on Opening Day appear as though they’re ready to go. Following their win against Tampa on Tuesday, rookie GM Matt Klentak praised their vigor, noting that “I know they’re Spring Training games but I’ve been very encouraged by the way Pete [Mackanin] has guys playing. The energy, the effort and the outcomes. We’ve won a lot of games this spring, and that’s been a really positive thing for us.”
So with all prior hedging still applicable—and recognizing that there probably is not a direct correlation between Spring Training and the regular season—it seems worth mentioning that the Phillies stunk in Spring Training last year (14-17 with a run differential of -51) and they stunk during the regular season last year (63-99 with a run differential of -183 [Wow]). Those two facts are not totally unrelated.
Looking back, they were 9-18 in 2014 Grapefruit play, which preceded a 73-89 regular season. 16-17 in Grapefruit play the year before, they also finished the 2013 season at 73-89. They were 14-16 in 2012, which provided pretty fair warning of the 81-81 regular season ahead.
I feel like you see what I’m getting at here. The last time the Phillies had a winning record was in 2011, when they went 102-60 (.630) and set a new franchise record for wins. At 21-14 (.600), 2011 was also the last time the Phillies had a winning record in Grapefruit play.
On the other hand, they finished Spring Training with losing records in 2008 and 2009 before advancing to consecutive World Series appearances. But that kind of hurts my point so let’s just focus on the last five years.
Speaking with irrational optimism and deeply tempered expectations, these tiny samples are encouraging. And win or lose, so far, these guys are pretty watchable. That’s really all anybody has a right to ask for at the moment.