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July 12, 2021

Kevin Cooney: Phillies head into All-Star break with reason to believe they can snap playoff drought

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Phillies-Cardinals-Rhys-Hoskins-Kate-Frese_041721-43.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Even Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins looks surprised his team is finally expected to make the playoffs again,

If this Phillies season has felt like a great big roller coaster ride, then perhaps it is somewhat fitting that it pulled back into the station for the All-Star Break and the pull bar lifted with things at the same place they began when they loaded into the car in the first place.

At 44-44, this team would provide a reasonable definition of mediocrity. Think about this: the longest winning streak they’ve been on is five games. The longest losing streak is four. The most that they’ve been above .500 is four games (April 7). The most they’ve been below .500 is four games (June 30).

They are 24-16 at home and 20-28 away from South Philly. Their .716 OPS ranks them 15th in the Majors out of 20 teams. Their .242 batting average? That’s 14th in the sport. Their 4.39 ERA has them 19th.

They don't particularly do any one area of the game extremely well. Starting pitching is a strength, but certainly wouldn’t be called flawless. The ERA is 4.14 — 15th in the sport and that’s with Zack Wheeler pitching at a Cy Young level at a 2.26. The manager was supposed to be a strength, but Joe Girardi’s perceived steady hand has looked shaky at a lot of points. The lineup is — as it has been almost every year since 2012 — inconsistent. The bullpen and the defense should end up on any federal disaster list.

So why should you feel optimistic as the break comes that the Phillies can reach the postseason for the first time since 2011? Well, here’s a better way of looking at it — what else could you be able to buy into in this town at this point? With the Eagles optimistic predictions at seven or eight wins, the Flyers stuck in the middle of the NHL and the Sixers having stomped on a city’s beating heart, the Phillies give a glimpse of potential hope.

Yes, there's obvious recency bias of 7-3 in the last 10 including series wins against both San Diego and Boston – teams that would seem to be a shoo-in to make the playoffs in some form right now. This past road trip to Wrigley and Fenway looked on paper three weeks ago like the absolute nail in the coffin when the Cubs were red hot and the Red Sox were bombing away. Instead, they got through it at 5-2 after winning a 5-4 game on Sunday that showed a bit of gumption that hasn’t always been there for the past decade or so.

They can send thank you notes to the rest of the National League East for being only 3.5 back in a division which is crumbling before our eyes. Sportsbooks, like DraftKings, still have the Phillies with the fourth best odds in the division at +800, according to Pickswise, with the Mets the clear favorites at -286. While New York is the best team in this division — especially with the Braves (+600) going without Ronald Acuna Jr. the rest of the season after a torn ACL this weekend — they don’t have a lineup that should scare you at this point. And perhaps the Nationals (+700) can piece it together, but they are rolling the dice with an older lineup that also has its injury issues. 

The schedule is also opportunistic as well for Philadelphia. Forty-one of the Phillies remaining 74 games are at home, where they have been much better. There are two non-division road series the rest of the way where the Phillies would be series underdogs — a three-game set in San Diego in August and a Labor Day week trio of games against Milwaukee. Just 23 of the Phillies remaining 74 games are against teams currently above .500. And just 11 of those are on the road (three at the Mets, Padres and Brewers with two against the Yankees next week in the Bronx.)

Compare that to the Mets, who have three doubleheaders up ahead and still have road trips to Los Angeles, San Francisco, an improved Cincinnati, Boston and Milwaukee remaining.

Does that guarantee anything with this group? Of course not. All the years of falling short in series against the Marlins could make you understandably skittish whenever looking far down the road. But it also has a way of influencing the way that management has to look at things when it comes down to trade deadline stuff and the old buyer/seller market. (We’ll have more on that topic in the week.)

It hasn’t been pretty and it certainly isn’t been easy to watch. But the Phillies have given themselves a chance. And in reality, that’s all you can hope for.

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Kevin hosts the “Working The Beat” podcast with Mike Kern, available on iTunes, Google Play and everywhere podcasts are heard. A regular on WIP, Kevin loves to interact with readers on Twitter. Follow him there at @KevinCooney.

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