Phillies Need to Continue Feasting On Bad Teams In Weak Early Schedule

After a 1-4 start to the season, the Phillies have won 8 of their last 9 games. At 9-5 they have one of the best records in baseball, but I don’t think anyone would argue that they are one of the best teams in baseball. After 14 games of the season it seems a bit much to say that a series against the Atlanta Braves is important, but as the Phillies head back to Atlanta they face 3 fairly important games for a mid-April tilt.

It is fairly obvious why the Phillies record is where it is. They lost 2 of 3 games to the Braves in a series with some bad breaks, bad management, and some disastrous pitching from Vince Velasquez. They lost two close games to a Mets team playing out of its mind. Then they just got done cleaning up against three of the five worst teams in baseball. There is nothing fluky about the Phillies having 9 wins, but there is also nothing predictive. The Phillies are at minimum in baseball’s vast mediocrity and not among it’s crap, they are better than the clearly tanking and the inept. They are also not an elite team who is going to win when they make mistakes.

This brings us to the Braves series. The Phillies play the Braves 10 times before May, and don’t face the Nationals for the first time until May 4. That May 4 game is also where the Phillies’ schedule gets difficult. From May 4 until July 11 here is who the Phillies play:

  • Nationals – 10 games
  • Giants – 7 games
  • Cardinals – 7 games
  • Mets – 6 games
  • Brewers – 6 games
  • Orioles – 4 games
  • Dodgers – 4 games
  • Pirates – 3 games
  • Yankees – 3 games
  • Cubs – 3 games
  • Braves – 3 games
  • Rockies – 3 games
  • Blue Jays – 3 games

That isn’t a bunch of losses, but it also doesn’t contain long stretches of wins against the dreck of baseball like the Marlins, Padres, or Reds. The Dodgers, Nationals, and Cubs are struggling now, but all are talented enough to be tough series by the time the Phillies get to that point in the schedule.

So this is where the Braves series comes into play. The Phillies need to bank wins now, because the losses are going to come. The Phillies are a bubble playoff team, and the path to a wild card involves stealing wins along the way. Right now the Phillies are not at full health, and winning games now before the bullpen is back at full health allows the games they can steal later in that stretch much more meaningful. Additionally the Phillies are not getting much from Aaron Altherr, Andrew Knapp, Carlos Santana, Jorge Alfaro, and J.P. Crawford, all players the Phillies are looking at to contribute everyday. In an ideal world the Phillies have won these games while at partial strength and are at full capacity when they enter the tough part of the schedule.

While this Braves series won’t decide if the Phillies are a playoff team or not, winning these games early may determine if the Phillies are in a position to play meaningful games in July. A sweep or series loss to the Braves could make an impact down the line. On paper this Phillies team is better than the Braves, and if they want to #BeBold they need to win series like this.

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17 comments

  1. awh

    April 16, 2018 06:29 PM

    Good writeup, Matt. It makes one think a bit. While the sample sizes are not large (and an obvious caveat), your description of the Phillies as “a bubble playoff team”, your article made me think of this:

    At this point in the season, which teams are the Phillies really better than?

    So, I went over to trusty old b-ref.com to take a look at the teams, think about what their expectations were at the beginning of the season, looked at who’s injured, and rethink whether we should have those expectations for some of them going forward – and whether these teams really can be expected to do what we thought they would at the beginning of the season.

    Along with that question one has to ask whether the Phillies are better than we thought they would be at the beginning of the season? I think so – but they’re not going to win at a 9 – 5 pace (.642/104 wins) the rest of the season. (Neither are NYM, PIT or ARI as good as their records).

    The interesting thing to me is that IMHO the Phillies are a better team than a lot more teams in the AL than the NL. I can count only 5 teams in the NL who I think the Phillies are clearly better than at this point, a few maybes, and a number who, if nothing changes (injuries) are probably better than the Phillies.

    The teams the Phillies are better than?: CIN, MIA, SFG, SDF, ATL.
    The maybes?: MIL, PIT, STL, COL.
    Better than the Phillies?: LAD, ARI, WSH, CHC, NYM.

    So, yes, they are in the “vast medicrity” right now.

    That’s still way better than being the worst team is baseball.

    • Steve

      April 16, 2018 07:12 PM

      So you’re putting the Phillies somewhere between 6th and 10th. That’s reasonable, and right in line with the fringe WC contention expectations. I’m not sure I’m willing to put the Mets as definitely better though.

      If their SP stays healthy and reaches it’s full potential, the Mets are probably a slightly better team. That’s a big if however. Syndergaard and Degrom have a slight edge over Nola and Arrieta. I don’t see Harvey as any more consistent than VV. Either could dominate, either could implode. Matz and Wheeler have more recognizable names, but a healthy Eickhof and the Pivetta I’ve seen recently can hang with those guys.

      Maybe I’m being optomistic, but I like our lineup better, especially if Kingery continues to play at a ROY level, Crawford makes the midseason adjustments he usually does after graduating a level, and every else produces as expected. On top of that, if Franco makes improvements and Altherr/Williams find some consistency I think we are much better offensively. It’s way too early but I expect this team to be playing very meaningful games in September. Add the fact that we will be as well positioned as anyone to make a mid-season acquisition, and things could get very interesting.

  2. Romus

    April 17, 2018 09:02 AM

    On Santana’s slow start, he may be affected by that ‘first- year of-a-big-contract-pressing-too-much’ syndrome that has conjured upon some in the past..

    • Chris S

      April 17, 2018 10:16 AM

      Or he is just the receiver of bad luck. He has hit the ball hard so far this season, but the hits just aren’t falling in.

      • Romus

        April 17, 2018 03:37 PM

        Yes, that is probably the biggest part of it.
        His K rate and BB rate, so far in this SSS, are also closely aligned to his career numbers.

      • Michael Lorah

        April 17, 2018 07:53 PM

        He’s hit an amazing number of warning track fly balls, many to dead center field. Warmer weather should hopefully add a few feet to some of those.

      • Chris S

        April 18, 2018 09:05 AM

        It also doesn’t help that the Phillies have happened to play against really good defensive CFs so far so that will also help Santana if he keeps hitting warning track fly balls to CF.

  3. Michael C Lorah

    April 19, 2018 07:54 AM

    While I’m overall satisfied with a 4-3 road trip, I admit I’d have liked to win two of three from Atlanta.

    Three player thoughts: Franco’s hot start is cooling off in a hurry. The RBI numbers are still there, thanks to Herrera and Hoskins always being on base in front of him, but his BA/OBP are in freefall.

    The metrics suggesting Milner wasn’t nearly as good as he appeared to be last season seem to be correct. He got a little unlucky with a broken bat hit, but he hasn’t been good.

    And I’ve long supported keeping Velasquez in the rotation when people were crying out for him to close, and I feel better about that support than I ever have. He’s look very good this season. He did a good job again last night, excepting one bad pitch to a guy who will probably finish the season with five homers. Walks are down, strikeouts numbers are good. And that was the first home run he’s surrendered this season through four starts.

    • Michael C Lorah

      April 19, 2018 07:54 AM

      4-2 road trip. Typo.

      • awh

        April 19, 2018 01:17 PM

        If they go 4-2 (or the equivalent) on the road the rest of the season, how many games do you think they’ll win?

      • Michael C Lorah

        April 20, 2018 06:43 AM

        Enough.

  4. Walt

    April 19, 2018 08:23 AM

    Do Phils train switch hitters? Men like Crawford would benefit. Do the Phils ever encourage weak sticks to bunt for a base hit? Why no lefty starters? Make a deal for a few. Remember Chris Short was 0-10 in 1961 before progressing. Do Phils have any good pitching coaches in system? Why is South America scouted so much by Phils? It hasn’t produced results in all these years since 2008 title. Do Phils ever hold an old timer’s game? It would be good. Saw Ritchie Allen at Shea in a Sunday double dip hit two bombs that went out on a frozen rope in nano seconds. That was fun. Grant Jackson pitched that day and he was fast.

    • Romus

      April 19, 2018 03:17 PM

      Walt….”Do Phils train switch hitters?”….in a nut shell yes….they did it more so in the past than now….Freddy, Roman Quinn, Cesar. It was the philosophy of the prior regime. Of course the player has to feel receptive and comfortable with it also
      Do they do it now?
      Apparently not so much …..they are letting smallish, Latin middle infielders or draft choices stay at their natural plate-side from what I have seen.
      Now some are switches before being drafted and signing……ss Luis Garcia for one, so they come ready made to go both ways.

  5. Walt

    April 19, 2018 09:54 AM

    If history repeats; Phils are two years away from noise making. 1962 saw 81-80 and ’63 saw 87-75 with an 11-7 record vs. world champ Dodgers led by Koufax. The latter was due to lefties Short and Dennis Bennett dominating the Dodger line-up with an assist from Mahaffey. This progression led to 1964 breakout. The current team looks for .500 this year. Then solid improvement like 1963 in 2019. What pieces do Phils now need to leap? First they need a Baldschun and a quality lefty reliever. Next a quality southpaw starter. Next, much better scouting on free agents and trade acquisitions. A quality switch hitter or two would be nice. A top of order base stealing threat would help. Current young talent would greatly benefit from switch hitting training. But it is likely too late now. The investment in Crawford’s glove maybe worth a full year back in minors to learn batting from both sides and go heavy on bunting skills.

  6. Walt

    April 20, 2018 10:09 AM

    What is the current consensus regarding Jake Thompson, Eflin and Eickhoff? Do any of them crack the rotation this year and if so what current starter gets supplanted or will Phils package two for a 12 game winner type lefty starter?

    • Steve

      April 20, 2018 10:42 AM

      Eickhoff should find a spot in the rotation if he’s healthy and close to 2016 form. Lively is the low man on the totem pole IMO. That being said, I doubt VV or Pivetta throw 200 innings, so there may be a few changes later in the season.

    • Michael C Lorah

      April 20, 2018 01:51 PM

      Eickhoff’s pretty much guaranteed to take Lively’s spot.

      Pivetta threw 130 innings last summer, so he’s probably going to pitch the full season unless he does phenomenal and consistently goes fairly deep into games. I suspect ~180 IP is where they’d pull back on him, but that’s probably the high end of what you can expect of him anyway (barring a playoff run, of course).

      Velasquez’s innings total is more interesting. He did go 130 in 2016, but only 70 last summer. I guess, for now, my feeling on Vince is: It’ll be a good problem to have if the Phillies have to worry about his innings total. 😉

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