Maybe their chances are a bit slimmer after their four-game series loss against the Houston Astros this past weekend, but the Philadelphia Phillies—that series aside—have been as hot as anyone in baseball in the past month.
Since August 17, the Phils have gone 19-6, and before their deadly series against Houston, they had gone 19-3. That's incredible.
Coming off a seven-game winning streak, the Phillies dropped three games to Houston this past weekend, and after climbing back over .500 on Wednesday for the first time since June 4, the Phils have dropped back under just as quickly.
Sitting at 73-74 before play against the New York Mets, the Phils absolutely have a chance to get back over .500, and they certainly have a chance to nab the second NL Wild Card spot—though that will be a much more daunting task.
It's taken a lot for the Phillies to get back to where they sit now. Even though they are still four games shy of a playoff spot and are statistically unable to win their sixth straight NL East division title, the Phils are far from out of anything.
Had you asked me on August 17 when the Phillies were 54-65, I would've still thrown out any hopes for the Fightins'. But that's why they're the Fightins'—they simply don't give up, even when the fans may have done so already.
Whether it's because the offense has turned it on, the pitching has gathered itself, the bullpen is no longer a liability or a mix of the three, the Phils have turned it on at just the right time. Here's five reasons why their sudden turnaround has come to fruition.
Not to mention Juan Pierre and Kevin Frandsen.
Thanks mainly in part to John Mayberry, Jr. and Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies' offense has received a much-needed spark. Both players have been exceptional not only since the start of September, but even since the middle of August.
Since the aforementioned date of August 17, Mayberry has hit .333 with a .918 OPS, four home runs and 18 RBI. Rollins has additionally batted .301 with a .920 OPS, seven home runs (five of which have come in September) and 19 RBI.
Add on 10 steals to J-Roll's other stats and you've got him, along with Mayberry, as two of the best players in baseball during that stretch. It's also worth noting that both Mayberry and Rollins have more RBI in the last month than strikeouts, which is by no means a small feat.
Pierre has also been great over the last 30 days but hasn't seen as much playing time as the former two. In 21 games (compared to 28 for Mayberry and Rollins) over the last month, Pierre has hit .345 with a .406 OBP and has as many steals as strikeouts with six. Not bad at all.
Lastly, Frandsen, after taking over for Placido Polanco, has batted .360 with an .835 OPS that includes a .422 OBP. This came in 22 games. So while the third baseman was considered, he hasn't played as much as Rollins and Mayberry, though it's understandable since he's got a stress fracture in his fibula.
These four guys have been the catalysts for the Phillies offense over the last month and have shown no signs of slowing down.
Should they, along with another hot hitter or two (a la Chase Utley, perhaps?), continue to produce at this rate, the Phillies offense should be able to provide enough run support for their pitchers to earn wins, and thus allow the team to win ballgames. But over the last month, many of the Phillies' wins have come at the hands of these four players.
Over the first half of the season, Cliff Lee was having a hard time finding run support and wins, managing only one through the All-Star Break (ASB). Since then, it's been another story.
Prior to the All-Star Break, Lee held a 1-5 record with a 3.98 ERA despite an average 1.19 WHIP and so-so .261 batting average against (BAA). He'd nonetheless maintained a solid strikeout-to-inning ratio, fanning 98 batters in 97.1 innings. The record and ERA just wouldn't do.
Having said that, Lee's taken a turn in the right direction.
Since coming off the All-Star Break, Lee's been absolutely stellar. He's gone 5-2 and has a 2.53 second-half ERA.
Lee's post-ASB WHIP stands at an above-average 1.07 and his BAA during that span is .251. The strikeout rate may have dwindled a bit—he's got 86 in 92.2 innings—but he's only allowed eight walks over the last two months. Considering that's over 13 starts, that's impressive.
The run support hasn't hurt, either. Yes, they still have a negative run differential, but their strikeouts to walks has decreased exponentially. There are fewer games to work with since the ASB statistically, that's a given. However, before the ASB, the Phillies had struck out 554 times and walked just 213.
But since the Midsummer Classic? There has been just 425 Ks to 200 walks. The strikeouts aside, the Phillies are being more patient at the plate, as their amounting almost as many walks in a little more than half of the games during the first half means more baserunners, and more baserunners means more scoring opportunities.
Lee's coming off a nice win against R.A. Dickey and the New York Mets last night. For once, he came out on top in one of many pitcher's duels this year, and on the season he's gotten his ERA back down to a respectable 3.27, his WHIP to 1.14 and his record "up" to 6-7.
Fortunately, Lee has an outside chance at 200 strikeouts on the season, as he currently stands at 184 with possibly three starts left on the year. Here's hoping he can get to that 200 this year as well as come out on top in his matchups the rest of the season.
For the first half of the season, the Phillies' bullpen was their most inconsistent and unpredictable part of the roster. At times when the Phillies' offense and/or starting pitching would finally keep a lead going into the seventh or eighth inning, a few times too many, the bullpen blew any chance the team may have had of adding to their wins column.
Needless to say, recently it's happened often, especially with one of the two pitchers named in the title of this slide. And the guy I'm referring to here is Phillippe Aumont.
Before this past weekend's series against the Astros, Aumont was lights-out. His filthy sinker-splitter-slurve combination along with a curveball and fastball was fooling hitters like you wouldn't believe.
His ERA sat at 1.80, with the only earned run given to him being against the Cincinnati Reds. He'd had nine strikeouts to just four walks (since command had been a big issue of his) and was inducing fly balls like they were nobody's business. Very few relievers were better than Aumont in that time span.
Then came the series against, who else? The Houston Astros. Aumont made two appearances, surrendering a total of four runs over 0.2+ that ballooned his ERA to 5.00. He also walked three batters over the two outings without striking out a batter.
To say the least, the series didn't go so well for Aumont. Otherwise, he's been a surprisingly reliable option out of the bullpen, with a .188 BAA to his credit even with the Astros series under his belt.
Perhaps more impressive has been Justin De Fratus. Yes, he's had almost half the opportunities Aumont has (six appearances versus Aumont's 11), but De Fratus was also coming off an elbow injury that not only kept him off the field for most of the year, but also off the Phillies' Opening Day roster. And in those six appearances, he has no earned runs and has allowed just one, while striking out four and holding opponents to a microscopic .105 BAA and minuscule 0.88 WHIP.
He's shockingly had some command struggles, as he's also walked three batters, but that aside, he's only allowed two hits total and has looked better than ever.
These two pitchers will not only be big members of the Phillies' bullpen this season, but huge pieces of the team's bullpen success in the future. They've shown flashes of brilliance and have demonstrated that they can handle major league pitching. They've done amicably well so far, and the ability to rely on them in later innings has been instrumental to the Phillies holding onto and winning close games.
I've already talked about the Phillies' offensive pieces leading the way throughout the last month. However, there's a specific stat I didn't mention—one to which very few other major league teams can even hold a candle. It's Chooch's specialty and has been a big part of why the Phillies have been scoring runs.
You guessed it (or not)...doubles!
No, I'm not talking about Monopoly, as is referenced in the title. But doubles, believe it or not, have been a massive reason for the Phillies' success.
Since the ASB, the Phillies have hit 106 doubles, good for 12th in the majors. But the fun's just beginning. Over the last 30 days, the Phillies have hit 252 doubles, 13th in MLB. Okay, okay, maybe that's not fantastic. But I'm not done just yet.
In the month of September, the Phillies are not just in the top 10. They're not just in the top five, nor the top three in the majors in doubles. The Phillies lead the majors in doubles thus far in the final full month of regular season play with 34, edging out the Baltimore Orioles, who have 33. And, what's more, is that John Mayberry, Jr., Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are responsible for 14 of them alone.
Michael Martinez and Jimmy Rollins both have three doubles, while five players are tied with two two-baggers in September. Even though the offense on the whole has been great recently, doubles have propelled the team into scoring position, which has allowed even the sloppiest of base hits and sacrifices to score runs (see Andres Torres' first inning play from last night).
If the Phillies can keep hitting doubles, it could actually be the deciding factor in their winning games.
Despite last night's pair of solo shots, there were no hits for the Phillies with runners in scoring position. If the Phils players can hit doubles and even make little contact afterwards, it can be enough to score just one run in a given inning. And sometimes, that one run is enough.
Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time this season, the starting rotation has been pitching as advertised.
Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. A terrific trio of aces who have been collectively lackluster this year. Although Hamels is in the discussion as possibly placing in the top 10 of NL Cy Young Award voting this year, both Doc and Lee have been underwhelming and/or injured.
I'll be fair about this and clear some things up. Lee was actually pretty good all year (spectacular against Matt Cain on May 16). He just didn't get run support most of the time, and the few times he did, he himself faltered. As of late he's been successful, and it's allowed the Phillies to continue to make a Wild Card push.
The guy who's been the biggest issue in the rotation this year is Halladay. Maybe it's because he's expected to be a Cy Young contender each year, maybe it's because Phillies fans haven't seen him struggle before or maybe it's because I used (and dare I say wasted?) a top pick on him in my fantasy league this year. Maybe it's a combination of all three.
The point is that Doc has had some issues when on the mound, and for a time he wasn't even toeing up the rubber.
Halladay was struggling, and mightily at that. His April was fantastic, as he went 3-5 with a 1.95 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and .188 BAA. He looked well on his way to weaving yet another Cy Young Award-worthy season. But as reports of diminished velocity continued to surface, Halladay's effectiveness also took a hit—by All-Star Break, Doc's ERA stood at 3.98 and he had a losing record at 4-5.
Even then, he hadn't pitched since May 27, a start in which he left the game early due to shoulder soreness, which resulted in his first stay on the DL as a Phillie.
Nevertheless, he came back with a vengeance, and while he hasn't been stellar, Doc's held his own, working his record back up to 10-7 despite an ERA still slightly above four runs at 4.03. But coupling him along with the resurgent Lee and the glimmering, expensive Hamels has kept this team going through September.
September? Yes, I've mentioned it quite often. But September has been tremendous for the Phillies rotation, as they've gone 7-2 with a 3.33 ERA so far this month. And that ERA? It's sixth in the majors in September, which isn't bad by any means.
Their September WHIP is also sixth in baseball this month at 1.14. But their rotation strikeouts totals? Second in baseball only to the Texas Rangers and first in the NL with 86. That's what I'm talking about.
The rotation has been the emphasis on the Phillies the entire season, yet has seemingly failed to live up to the hype. Well, that's come and gone. It's go time now, and the rotation is ready for it, more than ever.