If the season was over today, the Phillies would be on the way to Washington, DC to play the Nats in a Wild Card match-up between Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola. The season is not over today though. The Phillies are 47-43, in third place, and trending downward. They are both a playoff team at the moment and a team who feels like everything is wrong. It is confusing.
The Phillies have the same record as the Cubs, a legitimate contender. Before you get excited though, that’s the story of the whole National League. The only teams more than five games out of the playoffs right now are the Marlins (13), Mets (7), and Giants (5.5). While the Phillies have lost 9.5 games since June started to the Braves, and over 10 to the Nats in the standings, it’s important to note that only the Dodgers, Braves, and Nationals have really played all that well in that time. This is a free for all.
The problem for the Phillies though is that their issues run deep, particularly at the starting rotation. Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.74 ERA, 110.2 IP, 1.8 WAR) is increasingly looking like the top of rotation young Ace they banked on. Zach Eflin (7-8, 3.78 ERA, 100 IP, 1.1 WAR) looks like a capable mid-rotation arm in the majors too. Then what? Jake Arrieta has continued his regression since coming to Philadelphia, and now may need elbow surgery to remove a bone spur. As much as Arrieta was disappointing, he’s been the only other major league caliber arm that you could trust to go out every fifth turn and eat six innings. After a brief hot spurt after returning from the minors, Nick Pivetta produced a 7.33 ERA over his last four starts, reverting to the early season form that got him sent down. It looks increasingly like it’s time to give Pivetta a look in the bullpen, as it has been time to do with Vince Velasquez for a while. Neither are looking like major league starters. Jerad Eickhoff is once again hurt, after pitching himself into and out of the bullpen. AAA starters Enryel de los Santos and Cole Irvin have been unable to stick with the club either. At a bare minimum, the Phillies need two major league starters to sustain themselves in a playoff race.
The line-up has taken some deserved abuse, but let’s take a deeper look for a second. Here are some of the key lines at the break:
- Bryce Harper- .253/.370/.470/.840, 16 homers, 62 RBIs, 2 WAR
- JT Realmuto- .273/.328/.438/.766, 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 2.8 WAR
- Rhys Hoskins- .263/.401/.530/.931, 20 homers, 59 RBI, 2.5 WAR
- Jean Segura- .278/.322/.447/.769, 10 homers, 40 RBIs, 2.1 WAR
- Scott Kingery- .292/.344/.545/.889, 11 homers, 27 RBIs, 1.6 WAR
- Cesar Hernandez- .285/.339/.420/.759, 7 homers, 40 RBIs, 1.3 WAR
- Jay Bruce- .243/.292/.575/.867, 24 homers, 57 RBIs, 1.4 WAR
- Maikel Franco- .227/.296/.413/.709, 13 homers, 41 RBIs, -.2 WAR
Where would you like to upgrade? Sure, Franco has been his volatile self, but with Alec Bohm looking like a 2020 arrival at third base, are you getting more than a stop gap piece for the year? Cesar can drive you nuts sometimes, but are you in a rush to trade a .285 hitter in a market where you won’t get a massive package back? Sure, you’re looking forward and seeing a team with Bohm at third, Kingery moving back to his “home” at second, and Adam Haseley and/or Mickey Moniak sliding into your outfield and you’re excited, but this group is really not too bad. Next season you’ll get Andrew McCutchen back too, which should really help. Even Brad Miller and Sean Rodriguez have done respectable jobs from the bench. About the only complaint you could have is that Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr have all been terrible offensively as fourth outfielders. Andrew Knapp isn’t swinging a great bat, but this is what true back-up catchers give you.
All of that leads to the bullpen. Hector Neris has been mostly great as a closer. The problem has been behind him. David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, and Seranthony Dominguez have all missed substantial chunks of the season, weakening the 8th inning. Victor Arano has been hurt, Edubray Ramos has stunk, and Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez have been exposed when pushed into bigger roles.
Can a team with less than five big league starters and a busted bullpen hold it’s position as a playoff team. They’re certainly capable, it’s possible. I would give them less than a coin flip’s chance though. They need to pick up some pitching, and based on the state of the system, pitching they can keep beyond this season. I’m not sure they should overpay for it though. Mortgaging the whole future for anything less than a home run doesn’t make sense for such a flawed team.