The end of May marks an interesting point in the MLB season. Very few teams truly know what they are at this point. There are always teams like the Tigers and Pirates who know this isn’t close to being their year. And there are teams like the Dodgers who are ready to go on autopilot until October. Wake them up when things really matter. And then there are teams like the 2021 Phillies.
Everyone else is still very much in flux with two-thirds of the season still on the horizon. But the Philadelphia Phillies feel different than most other teams in their neighborhood in the middle of the standings. Most other mid-level teams either have reasons to be excited about the next four months or reasons to expect regression. The Phillies? It doesn’t feel like they’re going to improve their flaws this year. It also doesn’t feel like their weaknesses are going to knock them out of Postseason contention very early.
The Phillies are a team built to hit that simply is not hitting. Not at the expense of a Major League worst -29 run differential though. Unfortunately, nobody is in Major League Baseball, at least not compared to previous years. There have been twelve Phillies games since my last article on the team. They have scored more than three runs in just two of those games. Guess what? They won both of those games. Their pitching staff has improved, but they aren’t good enough to carry the team. Especially with Aaron Nola delivering a good but not truly dominant campaign.
To be clear, this article isn’t meant to write off this season. The fact the Phillies are hanging in there with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, and Archie Bradley all missing significant time is noteworthy. If the team can get healthy, maybe they prevent the Mets from pulling away from the airtight NL East and hold off everybody else. But that feels like a gargantuan challenge for a team that trips over their feet about once a game on defense and that can’t go on a run to save their lives. That five-game winning streak feels so long ago.
This Phillies team is what they are. They locked that in when they resigned Didi Gregorius and went cheap on Chase Anderson and Matt Moore at the back of the rotation. It’s scary to think of what the rotation would look like if Vince actual Velasquez wasn’t pitching up to his potential. He’s probably been the team’s best pitcher in May. The offseason will bring much-needed flexibility. Dave Dombrowski can start to aggressively patch their defensive holes, turn the bullpen from merely passable into a legit strength, and try to get this organization out of their own heads. But that won’t make the next four months any easier to handle if the Phillies don’t start playing up to their potential.
If there’s one thing to legitimately commend the 2021 Phillies team on, it’s their fight. The team has made several legitimate comeback attempts late in games. Their push back two weeks ago against Miami was a pleasant dose of excitement. There have been several other instances where they’ve erased or at least trimmed late deficits. The “oh, how will they blow it tonight” feeling that persisted almost every single night in 2020 isn’t really there anymore. Unfortunately, that’s because it is has been extrapolated to this entire season, if not the entire era of the team’s current core.
Where they go in the years to come is anyone’s guess. But where they go the rest of 2021 seems like a simple answer: nowhere. Not up, not down, just the same. Hovering around .500, full of potential and problems, just as they’ve been for the last three seasons. It’s a frustrating mold to be stuck in, one the Phillies don’t seem to have the firepower or prospects to break out of this season. The good thing about baseball is there’s a new game almost every day; maybe the next week’s slate can help the 2021 Phillies push closer to their short-term goals.