By Connor Thomas
6 games is 3.7% of an MLB season. It’s a drop in a seemingly endless ocean of summer afternoon and evening ball games that will ultimately lead to the determination of good teams or bad. So yes, it is still very early in the story of the 2021 Philadelphia Phillies, but the plot lines have already begun to reveal themselves. And man, does this one look like it could turn into one hell of a story. Realistically, the Phillies could not have asked for a better start to this year’s campaign; they’ve won their first 2 series, and they currently hold the best win percentage in baseball in a tie with the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros(*). This isn’t a byproduct of an easy opening schedule either. They’ve come out of the gates against the Atlanta Braves, the presumed champion of the NL East and supposedly one of the elite teams in all of baseball, and the new look New York Mets, whose rebuilt lineup garnered preseason playoff projections. All the Phillies did was sweep out the Braves in 3 games, allowing only 3 runs that entire series, and most recently took 2 of 3 from the Mets, including a game that 2 time NL Cy Young Jacob deGrom started. Oh, why was the Mets ace starting in game 4 of the Phillies season you ask? That’s right, the Phillies took 2 of 3 from New York despite the Mets being completely rested following their opening series cancellation against the COVID stricken Washington Nationals. It is a small sample size, but it is very clear that the Phillies are absolutely in the same stratosphere as the top teams in their division.
If that’s not enough to convince someone, the performance so far gets more exciting when you take a look at how they’ve been winning games. The starting pitching has been dominant for the Phils through their first couple series, with no starter allowing more than 2 runs – earned or otherwise – through the first 6 games of the season. Nola, Wheeler, Eflin, Moore, and Anderson have a staff ERA of 2.18 after facing the likes of Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, Francisco Lindor, and Pete Alonso. That’s an incredible start to the season for the Phillies’ top 5 arms, but the domination on the mound doesn’t stop there. The bullpen has already seen 22 innings of work on the young season, and outside of a couple underperformers *cough* VINCE VELASQUEZ, the turnaround of last year’s much maligned unit has been immaculate. They have more than halved last year’s number so far, sitting at a respectable 3.27 bullpen ERA. If you remove Velasquez and David Hale’s – the bottom two arms in the pen – 3.1 innings of work, the number drops to a miniscule 0.99! That is an astounding number considering the state of this unit heading into the offseason. So let’s recap: starting pitching – dominant, bullpen – outstanding. The team’s ERA as a whole is 2.62, good for 4th in all of baseball.
Prior to the last 2 games of the Mets series, the only question was the offense. The last couple games, the 5th ranked offense in baseball from last year finally revved up, hanging 12 runs on New York in the final 2 games. They left the yard 3 times yesterday afternoon, and as the dust settles on Philadelphia’s 2nd series, there are a couple red hot bats emerging in the middle of the lineup. Evenly spread at 2, 4, and 6 in the order, Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto, and Didi Gregorius are heating up. Hoskins (.417), Realmuto (.333), and Gregorius (.304) are scorching, and Hoskins has shown flashes of the player he was a few years ago when he was the talk of baseball. Bryce Harper has been cool to start the season, but he hit a 116mph double off the right field wall yesterday that would’ve landed in the Delaware River if it had some air under it. For a team that has faced the top 3 pitchers in 2 good teams’ rotations, you can’t hate the effort put forth so far at the dish.
The only major concern that fans should have about this team is that they are largely inexperienced in October, and still have to exorcise the demons of September collapses of the past, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. The bottom line is that this is a very well built baseball team that has already proven that they mean business, and are, for the first time in a long time, a real threat in the NL East.