5 ways the Phillies can overcome their flaws, become buyers at trade deadline and win the NL East
All of a sudden, the Phillies don't seem that bad.
They had won 7 of 9 before losing 3-1 and 5-3 to the Dodgers, pushing them five games behind the first-place Mets in the NL East.
The Phillies (32-33) are hitting better. They're pitching better. And they're relatively healthy.
Sure, there are still some glaring flaws that have often been exposed this season, most recently with Hector Neris' penchant for allowing game-tying home runs in the ninth inning.
TALES FROM EX-PHILS COACH: 'Too old to fight that fight,' Bryan Price happily stepped away from modern MLB
Then again, the Phillies have bailed out Neris twice. Wins Thursday against the Braves and Saturday against the Yankees were two of their three straight walk-offs, their longest such streak since 2013.
"We're having more consistent at bats, our defense has been better, and our baserunning has been better," Phillies manager Joe Girardi said after the 7-0 win over the Yankees on Sunday. "We've done a lot of little things right."
They'll have to keep doing that as they begin a critical stretch starting with six road games against the top two teams in the NL West, the Dodgers and the Gabe Kapler-led San Francisco Giants. Then there's a brief two-game home stand, followed by four games on the road against the Mets.
By then, the Phillies could potentially be buyers heading into the July 31 trade deadline, an unlikely proposition just two weeks ago.
Here are five signs that the Phillies can make a run at the NL East title:
1. Three top pitchers
As of now, the Phillies’ threesome of starting pitchers Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin are comparable to any in the NL East.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Mets are still loaded behind Jacob deGrom, with Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker having strong seasons. But Noah Syndergaard is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and Carlos Carrasco from a hamstring injury.
It’s not known when either will return.
In Washington, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin were also supposed to be a top three combination. While Scherzer is still elite, as evidenced by his pitching duel recently with Wheeler, Corbin's ERA is over 6 and Strasburg has only made five starts and is back on the injured list.
The Braves' pitching staff has also been decimated by injury.
Wheeler has been deGrom-like over his last seven starts. He has a 1.39 ERA during that time, and has struck out 71 in 51⅔ innings.
Nola has struggled at times, but he blanked the Yankees over 7⅔ Sunday and has a 3.69 ERA. Eflin has been steady with a 3.89 ERA.
The only problem is the Phillies are 19-21 in games started by those three, something that will have to change for them to stay in contention.
2. Weathered the storm
Things looked particularly bleak a few weeks ago. The Phillies finished up the month of May losing 9 of 12, and Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius – their typical 3-4-5 hitters – were all on the injured list.
Harper and Realmuto have since returned, though Harper left Tuesday's game with a lower back strain, while Gregorius could be out for a while longer with an elbow injury.
The Phillies are making up for what they might be missing with Gregorius' bat with Ronald Torreyes' fielding. Realmuto is heating up, although Rhys Hoskins (12 homers) is in an 0-for-33 funk.
In addition, Andrew McCutchen (11 homers) is playing better in June after a slow start to in which he was batting under .200.
3. Odubel's impact
The Phillies' center field situation was a disaster early in the season with the likes of Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery and Mickey Moniak all getting a chance. Combined, the four were batting .117 in late April when Herrera was promoted.
Herrera has solidified the position, hitting .272 with 4 homers and 4 stolen bases.
Quinn tore his Achilles and is out for the season. Kingery, 1-for-19 with 12 strikeouts, was taken off the 40-man roster, cleared waivers and was sent to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
He is joined there by Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and Haseley, who recently returned from a leave of absence.
4. Success from unexpected sources
Any playoff-caliber team needs contributions from unlikely sources, and the Phillies have gotten that most recently from Luke Williams, whose first major-league start resulted in a walk-off two-run homer to beat the Braves, 2-1.
Before that, Nick Maton filled in for Segura and Gregorius and played well enough until teams starting adjusting to him. He's back in Triple-A. Torreyes has played well in place of Gregorius.
5. Trade deadline boost
The Phillies don't have a lot of room to add someone at the trade deadline, both because they're pretty close to the luxury tax threshold of $208 million, and because they don't have much to give up because of their depleted farm system.
But they could always acquire an extra infielder if Gregorius isn't returning soon; an arm for the bullpen if Girardi loses faith in Neris; and they could always use another starting pitcher after both free agent signees Matt Moore and Chase Anderson bombed.
Those answers could come from within as well.
Spencer Howard, the top Phillies pitching prospect last season, has struggled since getting called up this season. But he pitched better Monday until faltering in the fourth and fifth innings Monday. He and Vince Velasquez could end up stabilizing the back end of the rotation.
Archie Bradley is back from the injured list, and he and Jose Alvarado could possibly get a few save opportunities if Neris, who has four blown saves, continues to struggle.
The Phillies could obviously use more production from third baseman Alec Bohm, who is hitting .225 with 4 homers and 29 RBIs in 227 at bats after hitting .338 with 4 homers and 23 RBIs in 160 at-bats last year.
Sure, a lot has to go right for the Phillies to make the postseason for the first time since 2011, but it's not impossible.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.