The Philadelphia Phillies are an early surprise in Major League Baseball. Projected for a last placed finish in the NL East during the pre-season, Philadelphia has been the strongest team of late in the majors. Entering Monday, they have won six straight and nine of their last ten games.
A major reason behind Philly’s solid play to open the 2016 campaign is their pitching. With a 3.67 team ERA, the Phillies are currently 5th of 15 National League teams from that point of view. Vince Velasquez has been the most dependable starter thus far as the emerging staff ace is 4-1 with a tiny 1.44 ERA. Furthermore, in 31.1 innings pitched Velasquez has struck out 39 as he continues to gain Major League experience.
Hitting is definitely an area where Philadelphia could improve. Entering this week, the Phillies are third last in OPS with Andres Blanco leading the team from that point of view at .981. Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard each have five home runs. However, they need to offer a bit more in terms of consistently getting base hits. Presently Franco is at .258 for a batting average while Howard is just .195. Both players are redeemed by their ability to hit for extra bases and draw some walks but, to compete over the long term, Philadelphia may need them to post OPSs of around .850. Currently, both Franco and Howard are well off of that bench mark (Franco .762, Howard .658).
24-year-old Odubel Herrera currently does have an OPS of about .850 as he is at .858 entering this week. Manager Pete Mackanin spoke well of the center fielder in late April: “He power shags every day in the OF, works as hard as any player I’ve been around in 48 years.” Mackanin, in referring to Philly’s winning ways, also said: “This is the most excited I’ve seen these guys in 2 years.”
It sounds like the Phillies are a very optimistic and upbeat team with the results speaking for themselves. At 15-10 through the first weekend of May, they are certainly off to a surprise opening to the 2016 season.
Furthermore, besides just their record, who they have beaten is well worth taking a look at. Most recently they swept the Cleveland Indians, a team considered to be in the thick of things in the AL Central. In late April, Philadelphia also swept the Washington Nationals in a series from the American capital, a team that’s playing over .700 baseball on the year.
The NL East had two expected powerhouse teams in the Nationals and the New York Mets. With a third team that knows how to win some games, it’s the strongest division in baseball through April with the NL West the weak counterpart (ie. division-leading Los Angeles Dogers is just 13-13).
For upcoming games, the Phillies will be on the road over the next week with a four-game series to be played against the St. Louis Cardinals and then a weekend set against the Miami Marlins. Neither of those teams have played well at home so far this season with Miami particularly bad at just 2-7 when hosting. If Philadelphia can go 5-2 over the next week then they might start turning some heads,. However, 4-3 on the road would certainly be solid as well.