Despite the fact that they play in one of the harder divisions in all of MLB, there were understandably high expectations for the Philadelphia Phillies coming into the 2023 season. They had just made a run to the World Series and with much of the same core plus the addition of Trea Turner, it was hard not to think of them as one of the favorites in the National League East.
Unfortunately, things haven't exactly gone as planned so far. Despite the pitching staff being as good if not better than advertised, the Phillies are 10 games back in the division and three games out in the wild card race with a negative run differential and somehow being outpaced by the Marlins of all teams so far in 2023.
The Phillies can't control the Braves playing out of their minds and the Marlins defying logic, but it has still required a recent hot streak for Philadelphia to even get above .500 for the season. That recent burst of strong play is certainly encouraging, but it is still fair to wonder and debate if the Phillies are still contenders in 2023 or if they are already toast.
Still in it: The Phillies' rotation is still elite
The best cause for optimism for the Phillies in 2023 is their rotation. Led by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, the Philadelphia rotation is second only to the Minnesota Twins in fWAR from starting pitchers at 9.0 fWAR. As a group, they don't walk many batters (2.56 BB/9) and rank inside the top 10 in all of baseball in strikeout rate at 8.89 K/9.
While Wheeler and Nola garner the most press and rightly so, there is some depth in the rotation beyond those two guys. Ranger Suarez has been very productive since returning from the injured list with a strained elbow. Taijuan Walker hasn't been amazing, but as a number 4/5 type of guy, he has fit the bill reasonably well even if his peripheral stats are less encouraging.
One wild card here is Andrew Painter and his return from the injured list. He is throwing bullpens now and assuming he has no setbacks with his elbow, he has the talent to give the Phillies a rotation that can beat any team and allow the team to make a real run in the second half.