Despite Some Struggles, Phillies Remain Among the Playoff Contenders

Despite Some Struggles, Phillies Remain Among the Playoff Contenders

After the first 70 games, the Phillies have shown dramatic improvement and one still has to wonder if the staying power is there, but as we enter the midway point of the 162-game schedule, the Phillies have no doubt exceeded expectations.

Rookie manager Gabe Kapler has received his share of criticism for his analytics-based style, but for a team that was 66-96 last year and 22-48 after 70 games, Kapler has the Phillies believing in themselves.

The pitching has been better than expected and the offense has been worse than expected.

Still, after Monday’s comeback 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phillies were one of two teams that would have earned a wild card berth had the season ended then.

Of course, it doesn’t end then and there is a lot of baseball to be played, but the Phillies deserve credit for hanging among the leaders.

The Phillies also have rebounded from a recent 3-10 stretch.

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One thing that the Phillies must sort out is their bullpen. Other than rookie Seranthony Dominguez, there has been very little consistency in the pen. Dominguez had a 1.17 ERA and 0.56 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in his first 17 appearances and he has been the most pleasant surprise.

In fact Hector Neris, who began the season as the Phillies closer, was sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, providing one of the team’s biggest disappointments.

Neris had a 6.00 ERA when he was sent down. What is worse is that in last nine games leading to his demotion, Neris’ ERA was 10.13.

This was a dramatic change over the past two seasons. In 2016, Neris had a 2.58 ERA and last year his ERA was 3.01 and he didn’t allow a run in his last six appearances.

Many felt it would carry into this season, but the opposite has been true.

The offense has been improving lately, but the Phillies simply strike out too much. After Monday’s win, they stood third in all MLB in strikeouts with 678, an average of nearly 9.7 per game.

The Phillies were first in walks with 273, an average of 3.9 per game. Kapler likes the players to be patient at the plate, but patience doesn’t only entail looking at pitches and drawing walks. It also should mean swinging at good pitches and the Phillies still swing at too many pitches out of the strike zone.

Centerfielder Odubel Herrera, who was drawing MVP talk through the first quarter of the season, slumped badly, but has picked it up lately, hitting .290 with seven RBI in his previous seven games through Monday. He also had struck out seven times in that period, showing the Phillies biggest weakness.

Still, with all that has gone wrong, the Phillies remain in contention for a playoff spot. Few would have believed that at the start of the season.

 

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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