The Philadelphia Phillies are currently on a 8 game win streak and now hold a two game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the NL East. With 50 games left in their regular season, the fans are asking: can they hold off the Braves and New York Mets and win the division? Let’s take a look at what’s working for and against them.
The NL East as a whole this year has been weak. The Mets and Braves have both underperformed, and while it’s a close race, it’s hard to tell whether either team will step up to the challenge. As it stands, the Phillies do have the advantage of currently being in first, and their 8 game winning streak is a nice morale booster. They have the momentum at the moment to keep them up top. Plus, though they have some tough series in the immediate future, 30 of their remaining 50 games are against teams with an under .500 record, giving them a good chance to put some distance on the rest in the standings.
Their top players have also been playing phenomenally. In particular here, their pitching. Zach Wheeler could be in Cy Young contention, as he’s posted a 5.6 War so far this year. Aaron Nola, despite some troubles this year, still has good analytical numbers (such as a 3.55 FIP) and should be able to right the ship and finish the year on a solid note. Zach Elfin is in a similar boat to Nola, though without the track record of him. Plus, this team added Kyle Gibson, who is having a fantastic season in his own right. Once Elfin comes back from the IL, this is a solid rotation. They should be able to allow the Phillies to compete if any of these four are on the mound.
As it comes to position players, Bryce Harper is really carrying this team, with a 168 OPS+. JT Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen, and Jean Segura are also putting in solid work at the plate, with each having an over 120 OPS+ as well. It seems their preferred batting order starts with Segura, Realmuto, Harper, McCutchen, and Hoskins. This seems just as good as any other 1-5 in the league to me.
Of the six division leaders in the MLB, the Phillies are the only team without at least 66 wins, at 59-53. This doesn’t inspire much confidence in their ability to hold first. Plus, this team is definitely weaker than the Braves or Mets on paper. Plus, the Braves in particular are surging, as they are 7-3 themselves in the past 10 games. The Mets have faltered, but they still had been in first place for much of the season and shouldn’t be counted out just yet, especially after acquiring Javy Baez at the trade deadline.
While they certainly have their star power the team has some weaknesses. They’re right in the middle of the pack on offense, ranked 13th by batting WAR according to FanGraphs. This lack of inspiration is particularly true of Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm. Though Bohm has been improving as of late, both are posting OPSs under .700, which is not what you want from your starters. Ronald Torreyes has been nice in place of Didi at times, but he’s not exactly lighting the world on fire either. This team will need these players, and probably others, to step up in a major way in the coming months.
Finally, while I did praise the top end of the Phillies’ rotation, the rest of it, plus the bullpen, is not the best. Philly is ranked 12th in pitching WAR overall (10.6), according to FanGraphs. That climbs to 6th for starters (10.4) and drops to 28th for relievers (0.2). Remove Wheeler, and their starting pitching has just a 4.9 WAR, meaning Wheeler accounts for over half their WAR. Yikes. They have to get some more reliable arms, especially in the bullpen.
This team is playing very well right now. But they’ll need to keep it up if they want to make the playoffs. Fangraphs has their chances of winning the division at 55.7% and Baseball Reference has them at 60.4%, which I definitely see as fair given their overall performance this year. But their last 8 games should give them some strong momentum, which may be the difference here. I’m confident they can win 30 games out of the 50 remaining, which should put them in a good spot to claim the division. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
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