Contextualizing the Phillies Sizzling Hot Start to the Season

MLB: AUG 13 Orioles at Phillies
PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 13: Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) celebrates a home run with Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper (3) during the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies on August 13, 2020 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Phillies have been one fun baseball team so far this season. Through a very mere six games, they have put themselves at the top of the division with a 5-1 record. After a season-opening sweep of the reigning NL East Champion Braves, Philadelphia found themselves in a potential reality check series against the New York Mets. The Phillies took this challenge seriously and took two of three against the new-look team from the Big Apple. Within that series win, they even won a game where Jacob deGrom started- and dominated.

Their 5-1 start to the season is the sixth time in franchise history that they’ve accomplished this. In the other five times, they’ve had a polarized mix of end results:

In 1993, the Phillies found themselves in the World Series. Looking at 2010, they made the NLCS and lost the NLDS in 2011 despite a game five gem by Roy Halladay. In 1964, the Phillies suffered a monumental collapse where they lost a 6.5 game division lead with 12 games remaining. And as for the most recent occurrence, 2019 was, well… 2019.

The interesting part about the Phillies is that they seem to have a mix of identities. Last season, they finished tied for fifth with 306 total runs scored in their 60 games played. Through their first two series to start 2020, they wound up with a 3-4 record despite scoring 35 runs. This season, we’ve seen a combination of hot bats, starting pitchers, and bullpen arms carry them to their success. Based on what we’ve seen, what path are the Phillies most likely going to fall down?

Bettors this season have found tremendous value on a Phillies team that started the year without a ton of optimism surround them. You can find odds and lines for all future Phillies games over at Sports Betting Dime.

Phillies’ Starting Pitching

So far, so good

To kick off the season against the Atlanta Braves, starting pitching was the key reason as to why the Phillies pulled off that sweep. Aaron Nola kicked things off for Philadelphia. For the most part, their Ace was dominant on opening day. In his fourth straight season-opening nod, he pitched 6.2 fantastic innings. It was until Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run moon shot on Nola’s lone mistake on the day that got the right-hander pulled. 

Zack Wheeler then followed that up with an absolute gem. Zack Wheeler showed his ability to be the Phillies’ second ace, tossing ten strikeouts in seven scoreless, one-hit innings. Oh, let’s not forget to mention that he picked up two hits and two RBI on his own, as well. Nonetheless, Philadelphia’s bullpen stayed flawless in the 4-0 shutout win.

Zach Eflin then followed him up with seven, one-run innings of his own to solidify the Phillies’ sweep of the Braves. The brooms came out, and people around the league took notice.

If the Phillies are maintaining this success come June, they’ll definitely want to look to solidify their four and five spots in the rotation. Matt Moore did okay in his return to the MLB, allowing two runs in 3.1 innings pitched. Chase Anderson allowed two runs in four innings but was the pitcher in Philadelphia’s lone loss this season. Spencer Howard is still awaiting his chance in 2021 and will get it sooner than later. However, scouring the trade market closer to the deadline if they’re still competitive could put this team over the top.

The New-Look Bullpen

Do we trust the Phillies’ Relievers?

Looking back on previous years, no lead was safe when it came to the Phillies’ bullpen. The historically bad bullpen lost the team enough games to blow their 2020 playoff chances. Trust issues quickly developed, making many fans uneasy about what to expect in 2021.

Dave Dombrowski knew he had to prioritize the relievers this offseason. The first of his deals was a 3-team deal. The Phillies basically dealt Garrett Cleavinger for Jose Alvarado. Alvarado throws a 99 MPH sinker and consistently touches 100MPH. As my colleague Alec Kostival pointed out as well, “he dominated Spring Training and currently has a 3 ERA with a 21 K/9 ratio.” To add to that, Alvarado already has a save, showing his reliability when Hector Neris may need a rest.

Speaking of which, Hector Neris has already finished two games in his three appearances (one save). Another newbie to the pen, who could be a late-inning guy, is Archie Bradley. He accumulated 1.1 innings in two appearances, not yet allowing a single hit or run to date. He did allow two hits and a run on Wednesday but still looked solid overall.

Let’s not forget to mention Connor Brogdon, either. Another friend of mine, David Esser, has been high on Brogdon for a while now. The 26-year-old is the only pitcher to have three wins in the entire MLB so far this season. This has been him in the Phillies’ history books as well.

The likings of Sam Coonrod, David Hale, and Brandon Kintzler have had much lesser roles so far this season. However, each guy has performed well when his number has been called. As of now, fans can start to take a breath when a reliever enters the game with a two-run (and even seven-run!) lead.

Phillies’ Bats

Starting to come alive

The biggest difference this year is clearly the pitching, as the Phillies allowed 37 runs in 2020 compared to the 16 this year.

As mentioned earlier, the Phillies scored 35 runs in their first seven games (two series) in 2020 and they went 3-4. This season, the tides have turned significantly. During their sweep of the Braves, they only scored nine total runs. However, in their series victory over the Mets, their bats began to wake up a bit. In the three games, Philadelphia picked up 18 total runs thanks to a whopping eight in game three of the series.

Rhys Hoskins has been on absolute fire to start the season. Adam Haseley has held his own as well. J.T. Realmuto and Alec Bohm are beginning to get the ball rolling. Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen have struggled a bit, but those hits will come.

The Phillies seem to have turned to small ball this year. Prior to Wednesday night’s win, they only had home runs by Andrew Knapp and Didi Gregorious. You saw the small ball even on display during their most recent offensive explosion, though. With Hoskins on second, Bryce Harper laid down an unexpected bunt that earned him an infield hit and advanced Rhys to third. Soon after, Realmuto hit a three-run shot to score them all. Harper made it a point to move the runner but also get on base any way that he could. This helped to break the game open. After the game, manager Joe Girardi mentioned that Harper made this decision on his own. The philosophy of the team has clearly changed.

It may be “boring” to younger fans, but it’s winning them games. Wins are more fun and enjoyable than any single homerun could bring.

Buckle up, Phillies’ fans. We’re in for a boring, yet fun, ride.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire