By Connor Thomas
The Philadelphia Phillies are just 31 games into the 2021 MLB Season. That’s just over 19% of the total 162 games that the team will play this year, but already there’s an interesting trend in their results that may prove very important down in a stretch run in September. In the 31 games the Phillies have played this year, 15 of them have been decided by a single run. In fact, right now, the Phils last 7 games IN A ROW have all been 1 run game. In fact, the Phillies have played 4 more 1 run games than any other team in Major League Baseball to this point, and have 2 more wins in those games than the next closest teams. It’s a remarkable sign for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over 9 years, and shows that perhaps this team will be better prepared for the late season push than previous Phillies rosters.
Their record in 1 run games is nothing crazy, but at 9-6 they’ve won more of those types of contests than they’ve lost. What does this mean for the team over the next 81% of the season? Well first, it’s important to acknowledge that this means that to some extent the Phillies have trouble putting teams away when they get out to big leads, or they just have trouble offensively pulling away to begin with. But that negative spin is strongly outweighed by the positive side effects of playing so many close games already. This team is getting TOUGH. They’re cutting their collective teeth in May, which is a much better time to prove to yourself that you can win tight games than figuring that question out in October.
There are also so many fringe benefits to figuring out the identity of the team and individual players alike that come with 1 run baseball games. In a retooled bullpen, it shows you what arms you can and can’t count on when the game is on the line. By the time October rolls around, Joe Girardi should know exactly who to go to in 1 run situations, provided that player is actually listed on the lineup card. 1 run games also create heroes at the plate, and build the confidence of players who are able to come through in those situations. If you think a walkoff win can’t jump start a hot week for an average player you’re wrong. When at bats matter more, the results can weigh more on the momentum of a player that comes through, and the Phillies have gotten some huge at bats so far this year.
Now, 1 run games are not the sole determiner of a good team. The Pittsburgh Pirates had a bunch of 1 run games last year, and they were the worst team in baseball. This is not a guarantee of success by any means, but make no mistake, 1 run games are absolutely paramount for building the experience of a team that could absolutely use it down the stretch. Blowouts are way more fun, but when push comes to shove, the important games in the fall are won by teams that can close out single run games. So far to this point, the Phillies are showing that they have the ability to do just that.