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Phillies built for long ball but finding ample ways to produce early on

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The Phillies didn’t have their World Series invitation in hand last October, but they had reason to believe it was at least out for delivery. Their hitters were raking, their pitchers were dominating and they needed just one win in two games at home, where they’d been practically invincible to dismiss the Diamondbacks in the NLCS and capture the National League pennant for the second year in a row.

Everybody knows what happened next. Arizona won Game 6. Arizona won Game 7. Suddenly, shockingly, the Phillies were left with an empty feeling and hard questions about a gift card that had gone uncashed.

The answer is both simple and complex. At the most elemental level, they were beaten because the lineup suddenly went ice cold. It happens. It especially happens to teams that rely too heavily on home runs to score. Power is notoriously fickle. It tends to come and go as it pleases.

In those final two games, the Phillies were a combined 11-for-63 (.174). They scored a total of three runs. And, significantly, they got just one homer, a solo shot from Alec Bohm in the final game. That from a team which, to that point, had blasted 17 homers in 11 games while averaging 5.6 runs per game.

That was last year.

This season, as the Phillies rest in preparation for a three-game series against the defending world champion Texas Rangers beginning Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, they’re mashing again and also getting excellent pitching. So it’s not surprising that they have the best record in baseball.

It’s a statistical jungle out there. It can be difficult to hack through all the undergrowth and figure out what really matters. But here are some number that seem interesting. With almost a third of the season completed, the Phils are first in all of baseball with 256 runs scored. . .and 35.5 percent of them have come on homers.

What’s really intriguing, though, is how this breaks down.

In March/April, that number was 46.3 percent. Their record was 20-11 (.645). That’s really, really good.

So far in May, it’s just 23.9 percent. Their record is 14-3 (.824). That’s off-the-charts crazy.

The quick assumption, then, is that this statistic is a hood ornament on a Rolls-Royce. Nice to look at, but with no real function. Except that the number is 39.5 percent in wins and just 22.0 percent in losses.

There are a lot of different ways to win. But one takeaway from all of the above could be this: Over the course of a long season, the percentage of runs that come from the long ball doesn’t matter nearly as much because a team has weeks or even months to get hot again.

The playoffs are different. (Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs? Well, yes. Feel free to insert your best sputtering-with-indignation Jim Mora impersonation here.)

Dave Smith, founder of retrosheet.org, put together a chart that showed the disconnect. In 2023, runs-on-homers ranged from 51.7 percent (104-win Braves) to 29.0 percent (Guardians). The MLB average was 41.04 percent. Seven teams above the line made the postseason, along with five teams under.

The Orioles ranked 22nd (37.2 percent) and still won 101 games. The Athletics were ninth (43.9 percent), but finished 50-112. The Yankees were second (48.9 percent) and missed the cut. You get the idea.

At the end of the day – or, more accurately, at the end of the season – teams that are overly-reliant on outslugging their opponent to win appear to be more at risk of sudden, unexpected elimination because even a short power outage in a short series can flip the script.

What’s happening with the Phillies in May at least suggests that they might not be as vulnerable to that sort of blip in the radar this autumn as they were last October.

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