Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Best Team In Baseball Since The All-Star Break...

Habit forming?
Is, and has been for several weeks, the no longer last place Philadelphia Phillies.

Yeah, this isn't exactly a sentence I expected to write, either.

I've been watching more than a few of their games, due to having fantasy players on other teams, and if you didn't know how terrible their won-loss record was before the break, you might think this was a frisky .500-ish young team on the rise. Hell, it might be anyway.

Realistically, they are at least two corner outfielders who are better than fungible away from fielding a decent starting 8 behind the pitcher. But 3B Maikel Franco looks like a keeper, CF Odubel Herrera has a lot of athletic skills that make him look downright intriguing, and SS Freddy Galvis seems tolerable by the current weak grade of MLB shortstops. The problem is LF Cody Asche, RF Domonic Brown and 1B Darn Ruf, all of whom will be lucky to draw MLB paychecks for long enough to get a pension, but at least they are all young enough to have a trace amount of hope. At some point, C Carlos Ruiz will need to be replaced, but maybe C Jorge Alfaro might be that guy, and they did get other pieces in the Hamels trade. (Before we get too giddy, though, keep in mind that Jeff Francoeur has the 4th best OPS on the team.)

What else is here? Well, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are filling out the last lines of stats that will get them on a local wall, not the one in Cooperstown. Utley in particular looks rejuvenated following a stint on the DL, but 36-year-old 2Bs should not exist on teams with this kind of won-loss record, and Howard's only employed because GM Ruben Amaro made him unmovable with the worst contract in the game. One month of good baseball doesn't wipe away years of bad GM work, particularly on offense.

Turning to the pitching staff, there's the core of a good bullpen here, even (especially?) with Jonathan Papelbon and his breathtakingly terrible personality gone. In the current hot streak, the bullpen has been sub-2 in ERA, and it's not as if they've been getting routine rest from a starting staff that's been as bad as could be imagined for much of the year. With Cole Hamels gone, this doesn't seem like it should improve, but Aaron Nola and Adam Morgan have helped, and even Jerome Williams was tolerable today, and that's hard to do with an ERA over 6 for the year. If and when these guys remember who they are, the days of winning three out of every four games will be long gone, but in the interim, let the good times roll.

Will it continue? Well, Arizona is the next step in the roadie, then Milwaukee, so stranger things have happened. Maybe it's just a dead cat bounce from the DOA managerial stylings of Ryne Sandberg, relief at not having to deal with Papelbon anymore, or even just finally being able to put the Hamels trade winds behind them. This also is where we provide party pooper information about how much of the run here has been at the expense of teams like the Marlins (3-0), Braves (3-1), Padres (3-0, with the road sweep finishing today) and Cubs (outlier, but still prone to Cubbiness, 3-0). It should also be noted that it has to be easier to play games when nearly no one is paying attention, having checked out on this Phillies season before it even began, such is the level of confidence -- justified -- in Amaro. Finally, it's the NL lEast, where 7 games over .500 makes you the hot young thing, also known as hands down the worst division in baseball. Baby steps at best.

But hey, better to watch tolerable baseball than terrible, and 16-5 since the break is still 16-5...

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