The Phillies blanked the Marlins 8-0 on Saturday night, a fun yet insignificant win during a season in which the Fightins will finish a distant fourth in the NL East.
And yet, today, they are winners. Big winners. Sound the alarms and race to the nearest sports book window.
The Phillies hit the over. Hot damn, the Phillies hit the over.
Back on April 1, three days before officially starting at Billy Penn and the night before Villanova destroyed Oklahoma in the NCAA national semifinal en route to the men’s basketball national championship, I was in Las Vegas to speak at a conference when I decided to put five bucks on the Phillies win total this season.
When I arrived in Vegas, the line on the Phillies’ wins was set at 64. As the regular season neared, the line jumped to 66. Clearly, someone in Vegas knew something. I threw down a few dollars on the Phils, if for nothing else to write the story, hoping there would be a chance to write another one before the season ended.
With 13 games to play in the 2016 season, the Fightins gave us that second story. Silver linings in a lost season. And, questioning whether they’d even hit the win total for much of the summer, $9.15 of free money for me.
Manager Pete Mackanin’s bunch started the season with promise — they were 22-16 on May 15 — but injuries and spats of ineffectiveness on the mound and at the plate, typical struggles that plague mediocre teams, caught up to the Phillies during the middle months of the season.
With two weeks left in the campaign, there are just eight teams in Major League Baseball with fewer wins than the Phils. There is just one team with a lower batting average — the Phillies are currently ranked 29th with a .238 average, just three points ahead of the San Diego Padres (though just four points behind the potentially playoff-bound New York Mets).
The Phils are last in the majors in runs scored, with 549 through 149 games. The Washington Nationals lead the NL East in runs (and wins) with 700 scored, good for ninth in the majors, and nearly 100 more than the next best team in the division. The Marlins have 606 runs scored, ranked 27th in baseball, just ahead of the Braves and Mets, with 582. And then the Phillies.
Of the five teams in the NL East, four have the lowest run totals in the entire league.
Buoyed by their early-season pitching successes, the Phillies have leveled off as more and more of their arms got shelved due to injury. The Phils have given up 702 runs, tied for eighth most in baseball, of which 650 are earned. They’ve surrendered the fifth-most home runs in the league, and their batting average against (.263) ranks tied for 23rd out of 30 teams.
And yet there’s promise. When healthy, the team’s young arms look dynamic. As a group the offense is anemic, but there have been some bright spots, individually. Tommy Joseph hit his 20th home run on Saturday night, the fifth most for a rookie in team history and just two behind Ryan Howard’s monstrous 22 in 2005.
And speaking of Howard, the team has decided to let him go after this season with a $10 million farewell gift. Alas, with Howard’s contract off the books next year, and 28 players on the 40-man roster 28 years old or under — with more youngsters like J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams expected soon — the future really is, finally, now for the Phillies.
“I think all things considered, we have to look at this as a positive season in terms of our young starting pitching,” GM Matt Klentak told CSN Philly’s Gregg Murphy, when asked about the starting rotation on a recent Phillies broadcast. “We enter a season like we did with as many young players, not only in the big leagues but in Triple-A as we had, and we know inevitably there’s going to be ups and downs. And we experienced all those things.”
Klentak seems pleased with the development of some of the players on the current roster, particularly the seasons for Joseph, Cameron Rupp and the surprising power numbers of Freddy Galvis (to go along with his stellar defense), telling MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, “he’s one of the most reliable, dependable shortstops in the league, and we see it every night.”
Klentak, who hasn’t even been on the job for a full year yet, talked about the success of the Phillies farm system, sheepishly boasting to Murphy, “I think we have the second-best winning percentage in the minor leagues of all 30 teams. It’s all really very good. We know there are players coming and, as I’ve said all along, we just can’t rush their development. When they are ready, they’ll be here, and until then they will continue to develop.”
Clearly the team has to improve the lineup next year, and it’s hard to expect Crawford and Williams do to that right away, given their respective struggles when moved up to Triple-A this season. Mackanin has already said he wants at least two “professional” hitters on his roster next year, meaning the franchise will have to figure out a way to balance the development of burgeoning talent with actually trying to win ball games.
Klentak was measured in his prognostication of the team’s record in the near future, telling Murphy, “I think the fans are smart. I think the fans see, like we do, that there have been a lot of positive things on this field this year, and we’ve also had some ups-and-downs, and some struggles. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think we’ve come a long way in a year’s time.”
It has certainly been a successful debut season for Klentak. While the Phillies are on a much better future path, nobody knows what will happen a year from now, and injuries — like those to Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin — can certainly derail plans. That said, the future looks bright at all levels for the Phillies, including the major-league club, where the team has won more games than the previous season for the first time since 2011.
The Phillies will finish fourth in the division, but they beat Vegas this year. Expect to take the Over again next season.