The Phillies just might be the most interesting team in baseball.
One question lots of people are asking about the Phillies is whether or not they’re remarkable start is sustainable.
Let’s just enjoy the ride and all its possibilities. There’s no team in baseball more fun to watch than this one.
At 24-17, the Phillies are seven games above .500 for the first time since 2011, their most recent playoff season.
They’re tucked at the top of the NL East standings, a half game behind the first-place Nationals and a full game in front of the third-place Mets.
“Our confidence is through the roof,” catcher Cameron Rupp said.
They’re doing this despite a -28 run differential—seventh-worst in baseball—and an offense that has scored the second-fewest runs in the majors.
Here’s how they’re winning:
1. 14-3 in one-run games. Only the Giants (9-5) have more.
2. Fifth-best rotation ERA (3.72) in the National League.
3. Seventh-best bullpen ERA (3.91).
4. Closer Jeanmar Gomez 16 for 17 in save chances. Right-hander Hector Neris 11 holds.
5. Neris and David Hernandez leading NL relievers in strikeouts—33 and 30. “Give us a lead, we feel like we’re not going to give up a run,” Hernandez said.
6. 13-8 against NL East.
7. Three walk-off victories.
Magic? Yeah, there’s some of that. But winning is winning is winning. Since an 0-4 start, the Phillies are 24-13. Since April 20, they’re 18-8.
They’re making every run count. They’re scored fewer than five runs in 20 of their last 22 games, but gone 15-7.
There’s something so cool about watching a bunch of kids win when almost no one outside of their own clubhouse thinks they’ve got a chance.
This is a reminder that teams who turn their roster over to young players have no idea what will happen.
“It’s crazy, but hey, why not?” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’re playing well. We’re pitching well. We’re playing good defense. We’re getting just enough runs to win. I’ll take it every time.”
Regardless of how this season turns out, the Phillies have so much young talent that their fans have every right to be optimistic.
There was already a feeling that things were headed in the right direction. In last year’s hiring of Andy MacPhail as president of baseball operations, the Phillies handed the keys to one of the game’s most respected and accomplished executives. He methodically put together a smart, innovative front office.
In Mackanin, the Phillies got a manager who is on his way to becoming a star in his own right.
Most nights, Mackanin runs out a lineup with four or five position players 26 or younger: third baseman Maikel Franco (23), left fielder Tyler Goeddel (23), center fielder Odubel Herrera (24), first baseman Tommy Joseph (24) and second baseman Cesar Hernandez (26).
Herrera has evolved into a true star in just his second full major league season. He impacts games in every way possible and has a .901 OPS.
But it’s the pitching that has been a difference maker. In Vincent Velasquez (5-1, 2.42 ERA) and Aaron Nola (3-2, 2.89), 24 and 23, the Phillies have two guys who have a chance to stabilize the rotation for years to come.
Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is the oldest member of the rotation at 29. He’s 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and has jump-started his career after three tough seasons with the Rays and Diamondbacks.
Best of all, there’s room for growth, not just with the young guys on the team, but in a farm system about to deliver another wave of talent.
Right-hander Zach Eflin, 22, has a .810 WHIP at Triple-A, and two others, Mark Appel and Jake Thompson, appear to be on the fast track to the big leagues.
And there’s the top prospect in the system, 21-year-old shortstop J.P. Crawford, who has a .760 OPS at Double-A.
Baseball is a relentlessly cruel sport, with a season long enough to expose every weakness. But teams like the Phillies, who keep on winning, something is revealed there as well.
“We believe that we belong here,” Rupp said. “We have 25 guys in this clubhouse who believe we can win. I think it’s shown.”