Things to Know about the Philadelphia Phillies

The Mets open a three-game set against the Phillies in Philadelphia tonight. Here are five things you might or might now want to know about them:

1. The Phillies have the best record in baseball, 81-44 coming into tonight. They’re 37 games over .500 and on a 105-win pace, a total that would give the best record in the 129 year history of the Phillies. They’ve given up fewer runs than any other team, just 3.3 per game, and they score 4.4 runs; only the Yankees have a better run differential. The Yankees and the Red Sox, playing in the American League East, are better overall teams for my money, but the Phillies are the best in the NL, and probably the best in the history of the franchise.

2. This Phillies team is a lot like The Dark Knight. Think back to Batman Begins – it’s an okay movie, but maybe not a great movie. Michael Caine is the perfect Alfred, and Gary Oldman hits the right notes as a weary Jim Gordon, but Christian Bale just grunts his way through as Batman and the villains aren’t all that scary. The Dark Knight is pretty much the same movie – it’s okay but not great, and the plot doesn’t actually make sense — but the moment Heath Ledger shows up as the Joker and does the pencil trick, the entire film just goes to a higher level.

For the most part, the Phillies are like Batman Begins – good, not great team – but Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are like three Jokers that take them to that next level. According to Baseball-Reference, if you replaced those three pitchers with three Joe Schmoes, it would shave about 16 wins off their record and drop them to 65-60. It’s an otherwise .500 team with three of the game’s best pitchers.

3. They’ve been running out this lineup:

SS – Jimmy Rollins – S
CF – Shane Victorino – S
2B – Chase Utley – L
1B – Ryan Howard – L
RF – Hunter Pence – R
LF – Raul Ibanez – L
C – Carlos Ruiz – R
3B – Wilson Valdez – R

Ibanez and the righthanded hitting John Mayberry Jr. are in a platoon in left now — even if no one admits it — with Mayberry starting against southpaws. Third baseman Placido Polanco comes of the disabled list today and should be back in the lineup; Jimmy Rollins is day-to-day going to the DL with a groin strain. The Phillies are third in the NL in runs scored and OPS in the second half.

4. The pitching matchups:

Monday, August 22: LHP Cliff Lee (13-7, 2.82 ERA) vs RHP Dillon Gee (11-4, 3.92 ERA)

Lee is two strikeouts away from setting a new season high – his previous high mark was 185, set last season — and still has another month to get them. He throws an enormous number of fastballs and cutters, about 80%, with the other 20% of his pitches being changeups and curveballs. With the lefty heavy Phillies in their home park, Gee has his work cut out for him.

Tuesday, August 23: RHP Vance Worley (8-1, 2.76 ERA) vs LHP Jon Niese (11-10, 4.05 ERA)

Worley has a 2.76 ERA, which ranks him third on his own team. His peripherals don’t support the ERA (3.33 FIP, 3.79 xFIP), but a pitcher with a 3.30 ERA in Citizens Bank Park is pretty good anyway. Niese has a 2.82 ERA in seven career starts against the Phillies and a 3.70 ERA in four starts at Citizens Bank Park.

Wednesday, August 24: RHP Kyle Kendrick (7-5, 3.24 ERA) vs RHP Mike Pelfrey (6-10, 4.61 ERA)

Kendrick has the third-lowest strikeout rate (min 500 innings) among active pitchers; only Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva (who might not be active anymore) have lower K-rates. He’s some innings short of qualifying, but Kendrick unofficially has the lowest K-rate of any starter in the NL this season, too. Pelfrey has a 5.12 ERA in 17 career starts against the Phillies and a 9.38 ERA in seven career starts at Citizens Bank.

5. Among active managers, only Joe Girardi (.572) has a higher winning percentage than Charlie Manuel (.561). Only Tony LaRussa, Ron Gardenhire and Mike Scioscia have more playoff appearances than Manuel, and only LaRussa has won more pennants. Most of this is probably noise, and has a lot more to do with the talents of the players than the talents of the managers. But these Phillies make very few errors (first in fielding percentage), they don’t strikeout all that often (second fewest strikeouts in the NL), they don’t walk hitters (fewest walks allowed) and they don’t run into outs (second fewest caught stealings). They’ve attempted the fewer sacrifices than any team in the league, but converted the highest percentage. Again, a lot of that has to do with the talent of the Phillies players — they don’t beat themselves — but some credit should probably go to Charlie Manuel.

And those were some things about the Phillies of Philadelphia.

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