After a horrific start it seemed the dreaded month of June would knock the Phillies out of contention. But now the team might escape the month stronger than ever.
At the start of the Phillies season the layout seemed pretty simple. Start with the also rebuilding Atlanta Braves three times, faced the rival New York Mets, the newly gutted Miami Marlins and a couple predictable low class teams with the Arizona Diamondbacks being the only challenge. Except things did not go quite so simple.
The Braves looked a lot more like contenders than rebuilders, beating the Phils in all three series. The Mets started out red hot and swept the Phillies in a shortened series, and the Diamondbacks after all took two of three. Adding in a 2-2 against the Marlins and the Phillies ended up 6-12 against that set of semi-challenging teams.
What saved the Phillies from falling out of contention is three sweeps against the Reds, Rays and Pirates that gave the Phillies a nice opening April record of 16-12.
May was expected to be a prove it month. Facing the reigning Division Champs Washington Nationals at the beginning of the month and reigning National League Champs Los Angeles Dodgers at the end.
Mix in the Braves, Cardinals and Blue Jays and it would be a difficult month. They finished off the month 15-11 and even saw themselves at the top of the NL East, albeit for 24 hours.
Now came the month that had been anticipated since Spring Training. A month featuring no teams under .500, the best team in baseball, the best team in the National League twice, the Nationals twice and a bunch of Wild Card contenders. It seemed 31-23 would be enough to survive the month.
That looked wrong quickly. Eight games into the month the Phils dropped to just 2 games over .500, before even facing arguably the harder part of the month. But now the tables have turned.
Philadelphia has won 9 of their last 13 games, including four straight series victories and a near sweep of the Washington Nationals on Sunday Night Baseball. The club is 10-11 this month despite the fact that the team has suffered with their top two pitchers failing of late. Cy Young candidate Aaron Nola has gone 2-0 with a 3.91 ERA while Jake Arrieta has had his worst month yet, going 0-3 matched with a 6.97 ERA.
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Zach Eflin has stepped up, winning all four of his outings behind a 2.28 ERA. He has been a very solid fifth-option for the Phils this year.
Finally, Rhys Lightning is back. Hoskins has had a superb June with a .333/.431/.685 slash including five home runs and 15 RBI since returning from the DL. Odubel Herrera has heated up recently to raise his batting average over .300 and nearly doubled his home runs.
Carlos Santana and Cesar Hernandez each have had solid Junes, proving the Phillies right to acquire Santana and not shipping Hernandez off.
Looking ahead the Phillies take on the evil empire New York Yankees before another series against the Nats. July looks to be an easier month facing four of the teams who sit in their divisions basement and time away during the All-Star break.
August once again features the Nationals twice and the Diamondback and Boston Red Sox, not much to worry about outside of that. Then a divisional September that will likely determine their fate. Only six games are not against an NL East team including the leading Braves twice.
The Phils are now a game back of the Cubs for home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card race and a half-game up for the second Wild Card spot. Despite early month worries, the Phillies are seven games over .500 deep into June. Add a bonafide closer and a big bat and the Phils might just have an opportunity to wind up on top of the NL East.