The Wednesday Takeaway
When you take a quick glance at the National League standings, there aren’t too many major surprises. The Braves, Reds, and Brewers have met low expectations. The Cubs and Nationals are the class of the league, no great shock. You got your mediocre Diamondbacks, your even-year Giants, your second-place Pirates, your near-elite Phillies, your Cardinals dev—
/record scratch, spit take, dolly zoom
That's right the Phillies are now just a half-game out of first in the NL East. It's only May, but it's already May. Quite a solid achievement for a team that was pegged to be battling primarily for the first overall pick in the 2017 draft.
The Phillies picked up a 4-2 victory over the Marlins on Wednesday afternoon, and as usual, the pitching was the main story. While the offense has performed as expected—through May 18th, the team is hitting .234/.292/.361 with a team TAv of .241 "good" for 27th in baseball—the pitching has been absolutely outstanding. As a team, the Phillies have a DRA of 3.69 (second in baseball behind the Nationals) and a cFIP of 90 (tied for first with the Nationals). Philadelphia has won 24 games so far, and the formula in those wins has basically been for the offense to scrounge together just enough runs (or run) for the pitching staff to get purchase on a lead. It’s been a positive formula for the Phillies, and it was on display yesterday.
Jeremy Hellickson started Wednesday’s game by giving up two runs in the first inning. It started with a leadoff walk and finished with a couple of RBI doubles from Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. As it turned out, those ended up being the only walk and two runs that Hellickson and the Phillies would surrender on the day. Hellickson went six innings and struck out four along the way. From the second inning until the sixth, he retired 11 straight Marlins.
While that was going on, the Phillies’ offense was able to string together a few groundballs and turn them into three runs in the bottom of the third inning. They took the lead and were able to hold on to it in the latter stages of the game thanks to efforts from two of their best bullpen hands, Hector Neris and David Hernandez. Hernandez made it out of the seventh inning by throwing only eight pitches to retire the side, then Neris made similarly light work of the Marlins in the eighth inning.
This eventually led to Tyler Goeddel breaking through and hitting his first career home run in the bottom half of the eighth.
So that's the plan. It's working. Any time you have a hitter like Giancarlo Stanton reacting like this, you have to be doing something right.
Nearly everybody, including us, figures the Phillies are in for more of the same from their offense and plenty of regression from the pitchers, who are far outperforming their projections. That said: They probably don't have one of the worst teams in baseball, and the players who are leading this charge offer hope for the next half-decade. That’s one of the best gifts that a rebuilding team can give their fan base.
Justin Verlander reached a major milestone on Wednesday afternoon, when he put a 93 mph four-seamer past Eddie Rosario in the bottom of the fourth inning to become the 76th member of the 2,000-K club.
Verlander delivered, if not a vintage performance, a better-than-quality start on the day. He went seven innings and picked up 10 strikeouts while walking three and giving up three runs. The Tigers doubled that output on offense, and they ended up sealing a sweep of the Twins with a 6-3 victory. That’s a good way to end a milestone afternoon for Verlander.
For the first time since the Phillies did it in 2007, a baseball team has recorded multiple triple plays in one season. The White Sox accomplished this feat last night with a 5-4-3 trifecta against the Astros. The garden-variety triple play was nowhere near as wacky as the 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play that they turned last month, but it’s still something worth bragging about—even if the White Sox did end up losing 5-3.
While you're flipping past MLB At-Bat notifications of Joe DiMaggio's growing hitting streak, Jackie Bradley Jr. is putting together a nice streak of his own in real-time. He went into Wednesday evening's eventual victory against the Royals on a 23-game spree—having singled against Wade Davis in the ninth inning of the day portion of the clubs' day-night doubleheader—and he made it 24 in the most stylish way possible, hitting a home run in his first at-bat of the evening.
In order to break the Red Sox’s franchise record, he will have to hit safely in his next 10 games. If he can, he'll supplant DiMaggio from the record books—Dom DiMaggio, that is.
Defensive Play of the Day
The Mets eventually lost this game and the Nationals still scored a run on this play, but things could’ve been a lot worse had defensive maestro Juan Lagares not made an amazing defensive feat look like something that was run-of-the-mill.
What to Watch on Thursday
The top teams in the AL West and AL East have been doing battle over a three-game series this week, and the results have been as even as you can get. The Mariners thumped the Orioles 10-0 on Tuesday, while Baltimore picked up a 5-2 victory on Wednesday to tie the series up. These two teams will start Thursday’s schedule at 12:35 PM EST, and by the end of the day we’ll see if Baltimore can stay atop the American League with the best record in the AL or if the Mariners can continue to chip into what is now a 2.5 game gap between them and the O’s.
Having the best record in the American League at this point of the season doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but we'll take drama in an intradivision series where we can get it. Plus, there’s the looming specter of Manny Machado. The Mariners have managed to keep him quiet over the first two games, as he’s gone 0-for-7 with only one walk in the first two games of the series. Will Seattle continue to keep the gem of Baltimore’s lineup off of the basepaths, or will Machado break out and get things rolling against the Mariners?