It’s not every day that the Phillies make a big splash in free agency, but that’s exactly what they did over the weekend with the signing of Jake Arrieta. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk, both internally and amongst the fans, that the rebuild is over. The Phillies are now in contention mode.
But how serious is that thought? One player can’t possibly make that much of a difference, can he? It certainly seems that way. When Baseball Prospectus released their annual PECOTA projections just before the start of Spring Training, the Phillies were projected to go 78-84. After the Arrieta signing, the Phils are now projected to go .500 this season.
That’s a significant jump, and it puts the Phillies squarely in contention for a playoff berth. No, it won’t be the NL East – Washington is still the cream of the crop in the division – but they can make a run at the second wild card spot.
That spot, which was first introduced in 2012 to keep more teams in the playoff hunt deeper into the season, sees most teams clinch it with 87 to 90 wins.
2017 – Colorado Rockies, 87-75
2016 – San Francisco Giants, 87-75
2015 – Chicago Cubs, 97-65
2014 – San Francisco Giants, 88-74
2013 – Cincinnati Reds, 90-72
2012 – St. Louis Cardinals, 88-74
While the Phillies probably won’t make it to that threshold, there is still a very good chance they are playing meaningful baseball in the game’s final months. There aren’t many teams in the National League who are serious contenders. Assuming the Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers all win their respective divisions, I only see six teams besides the Phillies that can realistically make a run at the wild cards – the Mets, Cardinals, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants. Besides the Cardinals, that’s assuming a lot.
The Mets have the potential for a terrific rotation, but they can’t stay healthy and have an offense that is suspect at best. The Diamondbacks seemed poised to have a great season, but can they build on the success they had last year? The same goes for the Brewers and Rockies, two teams that seemingly performed above expectations last year. Then you have the Giants, a team that struggled mightily last season but have a bunch of veterans that have had success in the past.
If the Phillies can take care of business against the basement teams, especially in their own division, they’ll be all right. By the time the July 31st trading deadline comes around, the Phils should be in a position to be buyers. At that point, it’s highly likely we could see Cesar Hernandez traded to make room for Scott Kingery. Maikel Franco could be traded by then, and maybe Kingery plays third the second half of the season. All of this to get another starting pitcher, maybe Chris Archer, if the need arises.
Arrieta has definitely moved the Phillies from pretenders to contenders. Besides his personal performance, Arrieta will provide some much needed guidance to the young guns in the rotation. The offense still needs to do its part and guys like Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, and Jorge Alfaro need to build on successful 2017 campaigns. If they can do that, it will be a fun summer at Citizens Bank Park.
While the chance of winning the World Series is slim to none, a Wild Card berth can give the Phillies some more credibility with the monster free agent class that’s coming at the end of this season. Similar to how the 2007 playoff berth ushered in the last great era of Phillies baseball, a playoff berth this season can usher in the next great era.
Photo: Bryan Green (via Flickr)