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May 20, 2018

What they're saying: The Phillies are one of the best teams in baseball (seriously)

The Philadelphia Phillies are one of the best teams in baseball. At least that's what some people are saying. But can that really be true? Or is it too early to tell? 

Even after a 5-1 loss to the Cardinals Sunday (a game that saw them collect just two meager hits), they sit a game and a half behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, and with a win in their series final on  move to 10 games over .500 for the first time since 2011, when they won 102 games.

At 26-18, they have the third best record – and run differential (+35) – in the National League and have the second best home record in all of baseball. They have an early Cy Young candidate in Aaron Nola and an MVP candidate in Odubel Herrera, whose on-base streak ended Sunday at 45 games (his reach on a dropped third strike didn't count). Carlos Santana is just starting to turn it on and first-year manager Gabe Kapler is no longer the punchline. 

Oh, and that pesky closer situation that won't seem to go away? The Phils may be close there as well. On Saturday, 23-year-old reliever Seranthony Dominguez picked up a six-out save – the first save of his young career – in his first opportunity. In six appearances (6.2 IP) this season, the hard-throwing righty has struck out seven batters without surrendering a single hit or walk (although he did hit one batter, his only baserunner allowed).

Winners of eight of their last 11 games, no one in baseball is as hot as the Phillies. And, sure, it may be early – we've only just passed the quarter poll of the season, after all – but it's certainly worth asking the question: Just how good is this team? 

'A winning formula'

Cody Benjamin |

If you're not buying the Phillies as a legit contender, Cody Benjamin of doesn't have time for you. And as he points out, it's not just Nola and Herrera who have been playing well.

The Philadelphia Phillies are one of the best teams in baseball.

Sorry if you disagree because a.) you don't like the Phillies, b.) you wrote off Gabe Kapler after five games of a 162-game season, or c.) you don't watch baseball, but there's not a whole lot of information to dispute that right now. ....

Let's start with the fact that they have legitimate candidates for the NL Cy Young and NL MVP awards. ... And guess what? [Aaron] Nola and [Odubel] Herrera aren't the only good players on this good (with a capital "G") team. Consider:

•  Jake Arrieta (3-1, 2.59 ERA) has been throwing No. 1-caliber stuff behind Nola
•  As a team, the Phillies' ERA (3.34) is the third best in MLB, and their total of earned runs allowed is second only to the Astros
•  The Phillies are the only team to have three different batters in the top 15 of NL OBP leaders
•  Only the Braves and Los Angeles Angels also have three different batters in the top 20 of MLB's OBP leaders 

In simpler terms, the Phillies have a winning formula, and they don't lack balance.  []

'The Phillies are for real'

Ryan Fagan | Sporting News

Many thought the biggest improvements to the roster would come in the form of a pair of big free agent signings the Phillies made this offseason. As Ryan Fagan of the Sporting News points out, however, their biggest boosts have been coming from the development of talent that was already on the roster. 

Those two alone [free agents Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta], though, wouldn’t have been nearly enough to turn a 66-win team into a playoff contender. Not even the rosiest of rose-colored glasses saw that happening. To become a legitimate playoff contender, the Phillies needed the talented but raw/inconsistent/learning youngsters who were on the roster during that 66-win season to take a giant step forward.

If you’ve watched the Phillies at all — well, after the opening series in Atlanta — you know that’s happened. After an impressive 6-2 win over the Cardinals in the shadow of the Gateway Arch on Thursday, they’re 25-16, just a half-game behind the Braves in the NL East. In all of baseball, only the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros and Braves have better records than the Phillies. 

Two of the Phillies’ young veterans, starter Aaron Nola (24 years old) and center fielder Odubel Herrera (26 years old), have led the charge. Nola has a 1.99 ERA and 0.989 WHIP through his first nine starts of the season. Herrera had two more hits Thursday at Busch Stadium, and his NL-leading batting average is up to .361, 28 points ahead of second place.   []

Fagan's main takeaway, though? "The Phillies are for real, folks."

Improvement from within

Bob Brookover | The Philadelphia Inquirer

While Inquirer baseball columnist Bob Brookover agrees that it's "absolutely not" too soon to declare the Phillies contenders, general manager Matt Klentak isn't quite there yet.

As general manager Matt Klentak discussed the Phillies’ work through the first quarter of the season Tuesday night in Baltimore, he sounded like a driver doing what he’s supposed to do at a yellow light.

“All we can do right now is evaluate what we’ve done so far,” Klentak told reporters. “I’ll take you back to the way I answered a similar question in spring training. I think the success of this team is going to be determined by the development of our young players. What I said in spring training was that if some of our young players take meaningful steps forward, this team can be pretty good. And if some of them regress or are injured, then we may not be quite as good. And with so many young players on this team, that’s a hard thing to project.”

Fair enough, but one-quarter of the season is a good amount of time and there are some things that are clear now.  []

And it seems the previous Sporting News item only further supports Klentak's point.

Improvement from without?

Jon Heyman |

Speaking of Klentak, with the Phillies finally winning for the first time in his tenure, the young GM may get a crack at being at buyer at the deadline for a change... 

The Phillies are another team that could go many different ways. They could look to the closing job since Hector Neris lost that full-time gig following a few blown saves; they could augment a rotation that hasn’t been bad at all; or, they could consider right field and/or a left-side infield position for upgrade.

The closer seems like the most pressing issue at the moment, but they’d please a lot of people if they’d consider bringing back the beloved Cole Hamels (probably a long shot). Shortstop J.P. Crawford wasn’t off to a great start before going down with an injury, and we all know how much the Phillies executives – almost all of whom were in Baltimore when Manny Machado was selected third overall – love Machado. They also love Zach Britton from Baltimore days, and he’d fit as well.

Potential targets. Hamels, Britton, Herrera.  []

In good company

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Corey's analysis is great, but some of the stats he digs up are just on another level. This one is great, especially because of who the Phillies pitchers are on this list. If it was Nola and Arrietta on a list with some of these other names, it'd be more expected, but that's not the case at all... 

Check out the list of National League starting pitchers who have struck out at least 10.4 batters per nine innings and walked no more than 3.0:

• Nick Pivetta
• Vince Velasquez
• Max Scherzer
• Noah Syndergaard
• Stephen Strasburg
• Patrick Corbin

Any team in the game would take that from its Nos. 3 and 4 starters.  []

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