A lot has been made of the preseason favorites to win the division — the Nationals. And their core players are well known to us. But the Phillies, like the Braves, have burst onto the scene, so who are they?
As of this writing, Manny Machado has not been traded to Philadelphia. But it’s not hard to see how he would fit into this offense. Their offense currently sits 20th in MLB in fWAR. And more importantly, they have some serious black holes at a few positions. Consider this graphic:
Their entire outfield, SS, and 3B are near the very bottom of the league. Even if they add Machado, they will still have more than a few holes on the position player side. The Braves, on the other hand, have been fortunate to avoid having sucking vortexes on their roster:
That may make upgrading our roster a little less simple than adding a Machado, but it still means the Braves are currently besting the Phils in position player WAR 16.1 to 8.5. The Braves are also outperforming the Phils defensively by an absurd 102 defensive runs saved (36 to -66). Machado certainly won’t fix that.
While the Braves’ position players are certainly besting the Phils, Philly has Atlanta beat on the pitching side. The Phils boast a 13.9 to 8.1 fWAR advantage. They are virtually identical in ERA, however (3.83 for the Braves and 3.86 for the Phils). The Phils, though, are striking out more hitters and walking less hitters, so FIP likes the Phils better than the Braves, hence the difference in WAR.
The pens are nearly identical from most performance metrics, and it’s the Phils rotation that is fueling a lot of their success. So far, they have a 5.3 fWAR advantage over the Braves’. But if you look deeper, there’s a clear reason: Aaron Nola has been out of this world. He currently sports a 4.2 fWAR in 20 GS, and with his 2.30 ERA, he’s been as unhittable as that performance suggests. He’s pitching over 6 innings a start, and he’s currently the 4th-most productive pitcher in all of MLB. Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta fill out a rotation that is 3rd-best in MLB. Simply put, it’s their starters that are bringing home the W’s.
Even if they were to acquire Machado, their rotation will continue to have to continue to pitch this well to sustain their success. With such a young pitching staff, whether they will is anyone’s best guess. Of course, Atlanta has their own uncertainty with young pitchers, so it goes both ways. With that said, the rotation has not been a strength for the Braves. The Phillies don’t have position players to call up to infuse their position player side, but the Braves have the pitchers to potentially bridge some of the gap. And while the Braves have a deep roster to overcome the ineffectiveness of any one player, the Phils are a Aaron-Nola-cooling-off away from losing that sizable advantage.
Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why the Phils are where they are, but it’s also easy to see that the second half could create some match-up advantages for the Braves to improve their roster more significantly than the Phils’. It’ll definitely be a race to the finish with these two.