The Philadelphia Phillies, Baseball’s Biggest Surprise
Written by Jim Clarke, May 26, 2016, at 6:49 a.m.
[Stats are accurate as of May 25, 2016, from ESPN.com]
Everybody and their mother considered the Philadelphia Phillies to be the best candidate to finish in last place entering the 2016 season. After finishing with 99 losses last year and selling off most of their assets in favor of rebuilding, the Phillies were expected to perform even worse than they did last year. Betting lines in Las Vegas opened with the Phillies as the far-and-away longshot at 300-1 odds of winning the World Series.
The Phillies have gotten rid of many of the faces of their franchise over the last few years, like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels. So it is no surprise that the team has been struggling as of late.
The 2016 Phillies are a different team though. This is a team that on paper has no business competing, yet currently sees themselves sitting at fifth in the National League. How did they do it? How is the second youngest team in the Major Leagues, that was predicted to finish with more than 100 losses, currently on pace to finish fairly well above .500?
The answer is pitching.
The Phillies have made great strides in keeping opposing hitters at bay. Aaron Nola has been playing like a man possessed, currently ranked fourth in the MLB in Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched (0.94) and ninth in Strikeouts (70). The team as a whole is ranked fourth in Strikeouts (401) and fourth in Earned Run Average (3.70) across the major leagues, a vast improvement from their 4.69 ERA that had them ranked at 29th last year.
The relievers have been no slouches this year either. Thanks to the bullpen holding onto late leads, the Phillies have 14 one-run wins, only two fewer than they had all of last season. The team has 18 saves and their closer Jeanmar Gomez currently leads Major League Baseball with 17 saves. Last year their bullpen was only able to accrue 35 saves all last year, and we’re only 46 games into the 2016 season.
Unfortunately, the other side of the coin is not so pretty. The Phillies offense still leaves a lot to be desired. They are ranked 29th in Runs Scored (147) as well as Runs Batted In (137). They’re ranked 26th in Hits (350) and 28th in On Base Percentage (.291). This is an offense that is struggling greatly and not providing nearly enough support for their pitching staff. If the Phillies want to be considered a realistic contender, they will need to improve their hitting drastically.
All things considered, the 2016 Philadelphia Phillies have been nothing short of impressive. This team has blown expectations out of the water and shown that they are much closer to returning to the playoffs than anyone thought. Maybe not this year, or the next, but it is clear that this Phillies team has a lot of potential, and with a few tweaks will bring an NL East pennant back to Philadelphia soon enough. If this team can stay healthy, I think they will finish above .500 with a couple games in hand in September.