Why the Philadelphia Phillies are a World Series threat: Dodgers, Braves must watch out

The Philadelphia Phillies are talented. They have been great this season. Why they should be taken seriously.

Philadelphia Phillies
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a real question. Just how real are the Philadelphia Phillies? Coming into the 2024 season, all of the talk was about the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves being the two best teams in the game. But everyone sort of forgot about the club that has knocked Atlanta out of the postseason the past two years.

It’s still early, but the Phillies are absolutely on fire at 26-12, two games better than the Braves, and their .684 winning percentage also ranks tops in baseball.

They’re 8-2 in their last 10 and have won 11 of 13. At this point in the season last year, the team was 19-19 and had spent most of that time playing without Bryce Harper.

Philadelphia’s plus-52 run differential ranks second in baseball behind the Dodgers, and the club ranks fourth in runs scored (191), third in wRC+ (115), and fifth in ERA (3.26).

Atlanta fans will point out that in the one series he two clubs have played, the Braves took two of three. However, that was the first series of the season, and since then Atlanta’s ace, Spencer Strider, underwent season-ending surgery. The team that faced Philly at the end of March is not the same one that will match up with them for the rest of 2024.

The reason for their early-season success is simply production, so let’s take a look at who is stepping up.

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The Philadelphia Phillies offense is elite

Philadlephia Phillies star Bryce Harper
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies hung eight runs on Jose Berrios in 3.1 inning and 10 total on the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, one of the better pitchers in baseball on one of the better teams in the game.

Berrios, after this outing, still holds a 2.85 ERA, which is double what it was coming into the contest. Bryce Harper landed the big blow with a grand slam in the fourth. And while his nine home runs on the year are tied for seventh in baseball, the supporting stars have been much more apparent this year for the Phillies.

First up, there’s Trea Turner, who struggled (in his terms) after signing a $300 million contract with Philadelphia before the 2023 campaign.

This year, he’s performing at close to his peak, holding a 146 wRC+ (100 is league average) while batting .343 with a .392 OBP and ten stolen bases. In Turner’s first year with Philly, he hit .247 in the first half and had an 84 wRC+. Phillies fans notably gave the struggling star a standing ovation and he ended the second half with a 140 wRC+, and has kept that bat hot to begin this season.

Alec Bohm was splitting time between first and third base last season with Rhys Hoskins out and Harper relegated to DH duty. His defense is looking better, his hitting profile is better, and he’s been the team’s best bat so far this season with a 172 wRC+ through 36 games.

That comes with a .346 average, a .413 on-base, and 32 runs batted in, which ranks third among all hitters. While his .393 BABIP suggests that he won’t keep this pace forever, he’s making solid contact consistently, not chasing, not whiffing, and his expected batting average (xBA) is still an impressive .310 based off of those contact numbers.

The scary part? Their offense may even have room to improve. One of their big sluggers, Nick Castellanos, is off to his worst season since his rookie year back in 2013 with the Tigers. His 61 wRC+ ranks 162nd out of 175 qualified bats and comes with a .197 average and a .265 on-base.

His chase and whiff rates are bad, but they were bad last year too. The biggest difference between this year and last is that he’s not barreling balls up like he has in the past. If that changes, the league could be in serious trouble.

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Zack Wheeler heads a stacked Philadelphia Phillies rotation

Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Since the beginning of the 2021 season, Zack Wheeler holds a 2.96 ERA across 607.2 innings. Through eight starts this season, he holds a 1.64 ERA with a 2.31 FIP and his 1.8 fWAR ranks tops among all pitchers this season.

Heck, there are only nine position players that rank above him in WAR this year. Despite this continued greatness, he has made just one All Star team in the past three years. There’s a good chance Wheeler makes the team this year, perhaps even starts the game. He’s Philly’s underrated ace, and he ranks third in ERA among qualified starters. The two guys ahead of him, Shota Imanaga and Reynaldo López, have also tossed way fewer innings.

The Phillies are so stacked in the rotation that their fill-in starter Spencer Turbull, who held a 1.67 ERA in six starts, was moved to the bullpen when Taijuan Walker returned from the IL at the end of April.

Ranger Suárez, who is known for his postseason performances the past two years, has also taken a big step forward this season. He’s getting weaker contact and forcing opposing hitters to put the ball on the ground more often, leading to a 1.72 ERA through seven starts.

Both his ground ball rate and his hard hit rate rank in the 95th percentile, and his average exit velocity (82.7) ranks in the 99th. In other words, batters aren’t hitting the ball hard against him, and they’re also not getting it in the air.

Since joining the Phillies for the 2023 season, Jeff Hoffman has been a full-time reliever, and a pretty good one at that. In the red pinstripes he has racked up 68.1 innings to the tune of a 2.11 ERA. This year he holds a 1.13 ERA and his 39.3% strikeout rate is by far the highest of his career.

His slider has always generated whiffs at a high clip (44%), but this year he’s pairing it with a mid-90’s four-seamer that is generating whiffs 36.4% of the time, up 15% over last season on the pitch.

Part of the reason is that he’s added a little more movement on the heater, doubling his vertical movement from last season, while also adding a little horizontal movement, moving it into the top-10 among all fastballs in horizontal movement.

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Philadelphia Phillies World Series Odds

Despite the incredible start, the Phillies still hold just a 6.7% chance of winning the World Series, which is roughly one-third the odds that Atlanta is being given.

While those odds seem low, they’re not too bad. The Dodgers (20%) and Braves (18.5%) lead the pack by a large margin, but below them are the Yankees (10.3%) and Orioles (7.6%), then the Phillies. That’s right around the range that the Phillies should probably be grouped in for now.

However, if the Phillies keep playing ball the way they have been, they should see those odds rise. Even if they don’t, Philadelphia has shown the past two years that they are a team to be feared in October, being that they’ve made it further than any of those four teams the past couple of seasons.

This team is dangerous, and with series against the Marlins, Mets, Nationals, Rockies, and Giants this month, they can start to separate from the pack a little bit.

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