Philadelphia Phillies a surprise success but this run of good luck won’t last forever

Gregg Patton looks at the surprising form of the Philadelphia Phillies but warns their early season success will not last.
Speedy centre-fielder and lead-off man Odubel Herrera is getting on base at a brilliant .440 rate. Carlos Osorio / AP Photo
Speedy centre-fielder and lead-off man Odubel Herrera is getting on base at a brilliant .440 rate. Carlos Osorio / AP Photo

The Philadelphia Phillies are the surprise success of the new season, meaning fans have had something fun to watch at the ballpark besides the Phillie Phanatic mascot.

They should enjoy the victories while they can. History suggests there is a Phillie phade, phall or phlop still to come.

Two months into the season, the youthful, rebuilt Phillies were 26-21, and challenging the New York Mets and Washington Nationals for the top spot in the National League East. No one saw it coming.

Philadelphia’s 63-99 record last year was the worst in the MLB, as the team transitioned from a tired, veteran-laden club to one built around prospects.

Such rebuilds take time to reap rewards. Or at least they are supposed to. The fledgling Phillies have skipped the growing pains, so far.

The two youngest starting pitchers, Aaron Nola, 22, and Vince Velsquez, 23, are boasting earned run averages of 3.14 ad 2.75, respectively.

They are ranked in the top 10 of Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), measuring overall pitching effectiveness.

The other kid in the rotation, Jerad Eickhoff, 25, is holding his own at 3.86.

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What has gone incredibly well, though, for the Phillies is their proficiency in one-run games.

They are an MLB-best 14-4 in the tight ones. Likewise in extra-inning games, they are 4-0.

Credit a pair of unheralded relief pitchers, Jeanmar Gomez, and Hector Neris. The closer’s job fell to Gomez at the end of spring training, after injuries and sub-par performances from several other candidates left the spot open.

Previously, Gomez, 28, had one career save in six seasons with three teams. So far this season, he has converted 17 of 18 opportunities.

Neris, 26, had an unremarkable year in 2015 in the Phillies bullpen, but has turned into a set-up man extraordinaire. He has allowed only 20 base runners in 27.2 innings, while striking out 36.

The downside is that manager Pete Mackanin has had to lean on the duo too much, to preserve narrow leads. Neris is on pace to get into 86 games, Gomez 83.

No MLB pitcher has appeared in more than 81 games since 2011.

One-run games, of course, are baseball’s equivalent of a lottery. Winning 77 per cent of the close ones is an indication that you have been lucky, the statisticians tell us.

Indeed, overall the Phillies have scored only 155 runs, 29th in MLB, while allowing 186.

The offence is clearly lagging behind the pitchers in this rebuilding effort, but there is hope hiding in the line-up.

Speedy centre-fielder and lead-off man Odubel Herrera, 24, is getting on base at a brilliant .440 rate, and has already added more power to his game in his second season.

Second-year third baseman Maikel Franco earned the No 3 spot in the order when he collected 14 home runs and 50 runs batted in half a season last year. He is on a similar pace this season.

The rest of the attack, however, is a nightly roll of the dice. That includes former Most Valuable Player Ryan Howard, who has devolved into a .160 hitting first baseman.

Mostly everyone else is in the tryout phase, as management decides who will help the team grow.

Winning could complicate things. The Phillies are one of baseball’s richer teams, meaning they could abandon the rebuild at any time and start chasing quick-fix veterans.

More likely, however, the law of averages — and abilities — will kick in.

Even baseball’s worst teams tend to win around 65 games per year. Maybe the Phillies are simply getting their victories out of the way early.

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Published: May 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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