Week 9: For a Moment, First Place

On May 26th, the Phillies entered the night 1/2 a game back from first place. It’s something that had happened 16 times before this season. Those previous 16 times they had failed to overtake first place – either by their own shortcomings or the heroics of the team they were chasing. The 17th time they bucked the trend, taking down the Blue Jays 2-1 after the Red Sox had already put the finishing touches on their own winning efforts. They had done it – the Phillies were in first place.

This might not seem monumental, but take a moment to reflect on this – it is the first time the Phillies have sat alone atop the division since September 28th, 2011. The number one movie at the time? The Lion King in 3-D. (Remember the 3-D movie fad?) (It barely beat out Moneyball, one of my personal favorites for reasons that either already are or will soon become obvious to you). The number one song? Moves Like Jagger. Siri wasn’t even a thing yet. The Wii U had yet to launch, show early promise, fail, and get replaced by the Switch. 2011 isn’t ancient history – but it’s been a while.

Sure, yes, it’s May. May standings don’t matter as much as September standings… but the games that have been played still count. With about 1/3 of the season in the books, competitive teams are starting to emerge from the pack. Since the Phillies were in first on May 26th, I wondered – how often has the team in first on May 26th finished the season there? I examined all of the seasons in the Wild Card era going back to 1995 (1994 has been excluded as it was shortened by the strike).

Overall, 57.2% of the teams in first on May 26th end up winning the division. If the standings in May were meaningless, you’d expect something closer to 20% – true randomness. Since it’s about three times that, we can conclude that the standings mean something (obviously – good teams usually compete throughout the season). The NL West drags the figure down a bit – only 10 of the 23 leaders on May 26th went on to win the division. Focusing in on the NL East, 65.2% of the teams atop the division on May 26th ended the season there.

This isn’t to say that the Phillies have 65.2% chance of winning division. They haven’t done anything to suggest they are playing over their heads, but the Nationals are still considered the division favorites (and after starting the season 10-14, they’ve gone a Major League best 21-8). According to various projections, the Phillies chances of winning the division are somewhere between 6.3% and 25.3%. Again, being in first on May 26th doesn’t mean they’ll win the division – it just means they aren’t awful anymore.

Well, not always awful.

Phillies Recap

Weekly Record: 2-4

Standout Hitter: Carlos Santana. Santana continues his resurgence with another excellent week at the plate. He is one of the most improved players in baseball – in April, his wRC+ ranked 19th worst out of 176 qualified hitters (not great considering he’s a first baseman). In May, he’s completely flipped that around and now rates as the 12th best hitter.

Standout Pitcher: Aaron Nola. Is there any Phillies player that deserves an All-Star nod more than Nola? He’s pitched 6+ innings in 9 consecutive starts, and his start on Saturday saw him reach double-digit strikeouts for the second time this season. He’s on fire and could (should) end up being the first Phillies pitcher to receive Cy Young votes since Cole Hamels in 2014.

Sit-Down Hitter: Odubel Herrera. Since I’m doing this weekly, I’ll catch even the best hitters having bad weeks every now and then. A week isn’t a very large sample, and if the player has an ill-timed slump, he’ll find himself here. This time, it’s Odubel, fresh off his on-base streak. His strikeouts matched his hits + walks (4), and his power all but dissipated the past week. He’s still rocking a .320 batting average for the season, so don’t worry. It’s a week. Everyone can have a bad week. *looks at Hoskins* Or month…

Sit-Down Pitcher: Zach Eflin. Eflin is the fifth starter and is brandishing the number 5 at every opportunity – Back to back outings of 5 earned runs and failing to finish the 5th inning (and 5 strikeouts in his most recent start). Jerad Eickhoff was just transferred to the 60-Day DL, so we need “Good” Eflin to come back. Starter Five, stay alive.

Around the League Round-Up

  • Aroldis….w-what….
  • “1 ball, 2 balls, 4 balls. Yup that’s a walk.”
  • Trying to find a Mets win like…

  • On May 29th, the Yankees won. This isn’t anything new – they have the 2nd best record in baseball, winning is something they paid for do. What is new – they managed to win while also striking out 17 times and committing 5 errors.

  • The MLB Draft begins next Monday. The Phillies have the 3rd pick and are heavily rumored to be targeting a college hitter. Among the two names you might hear – Alec Bohm, a third baseman with good power, and Nick Madrigal, a 5’7″ middle infielder with lots of speed and great bat control. Here’s some more in depth info, for those interested.
  • Banished to the Pen did a fun piece where they found which player was most representative of the franchise he played for. Example: if the Phillies have hit .260 over the course of their existence, who is the closest to being the “average” Phillie? No spoilers, but “Mr. Phillies” is one of the more famous players in the franchise.
  • The goose is okay, so feel free to laugh at this.

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