Two seasons ago, in Matt Klentak’s first year on the job, the Phillies were 24-17 in mid-May.
Within a month, they were 10 games under .500 and eventually finished 71-91.
Fast-forward two years and here the Phillies are again, seven games over .500 in mid-May.
But anyone who’s watched this team should know that’s where the comparisons end. That team’s ace was Jeremy Hellickson. Adam Morgan made 21 starts. Jeanmar Gomez was the closer. David Hernandez and Andrew Bailey were setup men. Just two regulars — Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez — had OBPs higher than .306.
The 2018 Phillies haven’t fluked their way to this record like the ’16 club did with all those early, low-scoring, one-run wins.
These Phils have two aces, two legitimate middle-of-the-order bats in Rhys Hoskins and Herrera, and another fearsome hitter in Carlos Santana who after a few hot weeks is well on his way to doing what he does every season — hit 25 homers with an OBP in the upper-.300s.
“I remember that well,” Klentak said Tuesday of May 2016. “We were often winning one-run games and wondering how we were doing it, but it was fun. I think there are a few differences between that team and this team. I think, No. 1, this team’s starting pitching has really been impressive through the first quarter of the season in their ability to throw strikes, in their ability to miss bats and in their ability to induce weak contact.
“On top of that, I think, in the bullpen, there is a lot of depth on this team. And when you look back to the ’16 club, I think we had at that stage three guys that were throwing the ball pretty well and we were relying on them pretty heavily in those one-run games.
“But I think the way this team is evolving, whether we are winning a close game or losing a close game or it’s a blowout, we’re able to put a good arm on the mound that’s delivered good results. And I think our offense is really starting to click now, too. One of the things about the ’16 team was that we were winning a bunch of low-scoring games. We weren’t scoring a lot. And this club, the offense is really starting to find their rhythm right now.”
Some look to the quarter-pole as the first checkpoint in an MLB season. Others consider it Memorial Day. By the holiday, we will have a clearer picture of where this team is, not only because of the Phils’ upcoming schedule but also because the Nationals are rounding into form and the Braves have remained hot.
The Phillies host Atlanta May 21-23 and then go 102 games without seeing the Braves again. That makes the three-game series even more important than usual because it’s a chance to improve while hurting the Braves. Aside from that, it would be nice for the Phils to not sit and think for months that Atlanta has their number.
The Phillies are currently on a mid-90s-win pace. Does Klentak think this is sustainable?
“With so many young players on this team, that’s a hard thing to project,” he said.
“What we have seen through the first 40 games or so is that we have had some players take big steps forward. Not all of them, we haven’t batted 1.000, but Odubel’s batting .360, (Jorge) Alfaro’s developed into a real presence behind the plate. (Nick) Pivetta and (Vince) Velasquez have demonstrated that their performance can match their stuff, and our bullpen has really been solid one through eight. If we continue to get those kinds of contributions, I would expect that we’ll remain competitive.”
Could that mean the Phillies actually buy at the trade deadline? If they do, keep your eye on Cole Hamels. He cannot block a trade back to the Phils and would probably be open to returning here with the Rangers floundering and Hamels’ having a $20 million club option next season that a team like the Phils would be more open to exercising than the Rangers.
“We’re assessing how good our team is but also where we have a need. The left-handed pitching might be one area to address,” Klentak said. “We’re at the quarter-pole. I think it’s a little early to start talking about that. There’s been some light dialogue among a few teams so far but really nothing substantial, just a very-early feeling out. As we get deeper into June and July, I know that activity will pick up and we’ll just have to see how we stack up when we get to that point.”