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Five Reasons the Phillies' Hot Start Will Continue

The 2024 Philadelphia Phillies are off to a blazing 20-11 start to their season, contrary to the typical April and May disaster that has held the franchise back in the Bryce Harper era. There are a lot of positives to point to - a league-leading 2.14 ERA from starting pitching, an NL-leading 37 home runs, and the continued evolution of Alec Bohm, to name a few, but can they sustain this pace and put pressure on the Atlanta Braves for that elusive NL East crown? All signs point to yes, and here's why:

1. Alec Bohn is the Real Deal

Alec Bohm has had quite a turbulent career in Philadelphia. In 2022, he was the underperforming 3rd baseman on a team with championship aspirations. He was booed off the field after several errors and was subsequently caught on camera saying, "I f***ing hate this place." He apologized immediately after, and the fans were quick to have his back, having passed the Philly love test by owning up to his frustration and working hard throughout the season to improve and help that team reach the World Series. Fast forward two years, and we are seeing the breakout season everyone has been waiting for. Bohm is currently batting .364 with 29 RBI and a 1.046 OPS, marks that are second, second, and third in the majors. He's been even better in his past seven, going 16 for 29 from the plate (.552 batting average!) with 11 RBI, enough to win the NL's Player of the Week honors.


While it's easy to say it's just April, Bohm has shown an ability to be patient at the plate in 2024 that bodes well for his continued success. His 15 walks in 122 PA puts him on pace for roughly 75 walks - his current career high in walks was 42 in 2023. That, combined with his declining swinging strike rate (down to 10.6% from 13.8% in 2023 and 16.4% in 2022) and increasing 2-0 and 3-1 count rate (up to 18.6% and 6.8% of at-bats respectively in 2024 from 11.1% and 5.1% in 2023) shows a hitter who is seeing the ball well, willing to be patient and barreling up any pitches left in the zone. The right-handed bat to protect Bryce Harper has finally arrived.


2. Wheeler, Suarez, and Nola Look a Lot like Maddox, Glavine, Smoltz

As Phillies fans will remember, the Atlanta Braves of the '90s featured three future hall-of-fame starters: Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Maddox was the wily vet who had the command and savvy to toy with hitters, Glavine was the smooth lefty who dominated with a devastatingly accurate fastball/changeup combination, and Smoltz would overpower hitters with his fastball and pile up the K's with his splitter. Well, now, this all sounds familiar...Zack Wheeler is the savvy vet toying with hitters to the tune of a 1.93 ERA and 11.09 K/9, good for sixth in the majors; Suarez is the lefty with a devastating fastball/changeup combo that has given him a 1.32 ERA, a league-leading .634 WHIP, and a perfect 5-0 record. At the same time, Nola mows through hitters at an average of 14.42 pitches/inning with his fastball-knuckle curve combo.


OK, I may be reaching on the Nola-Smoltz comparison but the triple threat at the top of the rotation is obvious and potent. They have a combined 5.68 hits/9 innings, 9.37 K/9, and a ridiculous .845 WHIP over 18 starts. Regression is expected, but not enough to be concerned. You have to expect the combined .218 BABIP to fall closer to the league average of .300, but not as much as you might think. All three keep the ball on the ground and rank in the top 20 in groundout/flyout ratio. Good things happen when you keep the ball on the ground, limit walks, and generate weak contact. Just ask the Big 3.


Defensive Improvements

Bryce Harper's right elbow injury in 2022 forced the Phillies to bat him at the DH spot for much of 2023, which left Kyle Schwarber in left field and Brandon Marsh in center. The results were a staggering -30 defensive runs saved (all of which occurred in center field) and a .695 defensive efficiency rating that put the Phillies near the bottom of the league defensively. Trea Turner didn't help either, leading the league in errors with 23 and combining for 117 double plays turned, the fifth-worst mark in the majors. In 2024, many of the issues have been solved.


Bryce Harper emerged as a plus defender at first base, and Trea Turner regained his form at shortstop, committing only three errors so far. Johan Rojas has given the Phils a defensive force in center field and turned the tide on the team's total runs saved with a +2 mark and a team .706 defensive efficiency rating, a full eleven points higher than 2023. And though the Phillies still rank among the bottom of the league in double plays turned, much of that has been due to the lack of runners against them. While the defense is still not elite, it's no longer the detriment it has been in the past.


4. The Stars Have Yet to Show Up

Bryce Harper is an absolute stud. He has two league MVPs to his name and a career .280 average with 312 home runs, 907 RBI, and countless clutch hits and game-winning moments. Nick Castellanos is also a star, boasting 2 all-star appearances, a Silver Slugger award, and a career .274 average with 211 home runs and 770 RBI. While J.T. Realmuto is known more for his glove, he has 3 silver sluggers along with 3 all-star appearances and a career .272 batting average to boot. None of the three have performed close to what's expected of them. Bryce Harper is batting .237, a full 23 points lower than his worst season in Philadelphia and nearly 60 points off his previous three seasons. Realmuto is batting .245 with a .292 OBP, both of which would be his worst marks since his rookie season.


Amazingly, Castellanos has been one of the worst hitters in baseball, with a .173 average, good for 10th worst in the majors and over 80 points worse than any full season in his career. And yet, the Phillies are winning. I wouldn't expect any of them to finish with career years, but with a combined 36 years of MLB experience near the top of the league, they know how to make the adjustments to get their game on track. When they do, watch out.


5. Orion, The Hunter

In Greek mythology, Orion is a hunter who is the pinnacle of human hunting excellence, using a bronze club to strike down animals in the underworld. For the Phillies, Orion Kerkering is a hunter of elite hitters and the pinnacle of pitching dominance, rendering his opponent's clubs useless. Through his five appearances, he has allowed two hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings, and his combination of a 93-97 mph fastball and a devastating slider have left opponents at a loss.


The slider is an anomaly, rotating between 2700-2900 rpm and generating whiffs on 41% of swings, and while he is new to the majors, his ability to avoid contact is a boon for a struggling Phillies bullpen. If he can settle into a setup/closing role, the Phillies will have the locked-in setup/closing combo they desperately need. Currently, the Phils have an awful 5.56 ERA in the 8th/9th innings and have allowed 28 walks in 55 innings, 18 of which came in high-leverage situations. Adding the hunter to the mix should settle the back end of the bullpen down and allow Rob Thompson to use his situational arms without worry.


It has been 13 years since the Phillies took the NL East title, which they have done in each of their championship seasons (1980, 2008). And while they have proven they can make a run at a title without the NL East crown, the focus around the clubhouse has been on winning the division in 2024. With a few early breakout seasons and a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse, that goal is within their grasp.



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