Pivetta's Emergence, Alfaro's Cannon, and What 27-18 Means

At 27-18 after winning the first of a crucial three-game series against the Braves, the Phillies have the second-best record in the National League and the third-fewest losses in the majors, behind only the Yankees and Red Sox.

Seriously ... who would have thought the first 45 games would play out this way? Certainly not Vegas, where most books set the Phillies' over-under at 75½.

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Let's take a look at some of the most interesting Phillies-related developments of the last week, starting with the word on everyone's mind:

Playoffs?!
Last season, only five teams - the Astros, Yankees, Nationals, Diamondbacks and Rockies - had this strong a start, record-wise.

All five of them made the playoffs, winning at least 87 games.

Going back two seasons, 11 of the 13 teams to start this fast made the playoffs, and going back another, it's 15 of 20.

The Phillies have not arrived at this record with dumb luck. They've outscored their opponents by 38 runs. They're fourth in the NL in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed. 

"Yeah, but they beat up on bad teams."

That's not even really true. The Phillies are 17-15 this season against teams .500 or better, including 8-3 in their last 11.

Perspective on Pivetta
After another gem last night, Nick Pivetta has a 3.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Those are ace-like numbers nearly identical to 2017 Zack Greinke's (3.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP).

Over his last three starts, Pivetta has pitched 19 innings and allowed one run on 12 baserunners while striking out 25. 

Pivetta is the only pitcher in the National League this season with at least 60 strikeouts and no more than 12 walks. In the AL, only Corey Kluber and Rick Porcello have done it.

And keep in mind, this is a guy who four starts ago allowed six runs in an inning. Take away that game at Nationals Park - which, I know, you can't - and Pivetta has a 2.25 ERA.

In a perfect world, the Phillies wanted Pivetta to become a reliable No. 3 starter this season. So far, he's been much more.

Alfaro's arm
When he first saw Jorge Alfaro in spring training, former Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Alfaro may have the strongest throwing arm he's ever seen from a catcher.

Last night, Gabe Kapler compared Alfaro favorably to Pudge Rodriguez.

If it seems like Alfaro has an uncommon cannon behind the plate, it's because he does. Alfaro's throws this season have averaged 90.5 mph, by far the fastest in the majors among catchers. J.T. Realmuto is next at 87.6 mph.

Alfaro had two base-stealers nabbed last night but caught only one because the throw was bobbled on Freddie Freeman's attempt. Still, Alfaro has thrown out 30 percent of would-be base-stealers, which is better than the league average.

Clutch off the bench
The Phillies already have three pinch-hit home runs this season after totaling just four in each of the past two seasons.

Two of the homers were from Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr answered with his own last night. These guys are just in perpetual competition.

Williams, by the way, has hit .313 with a .405 OBP in his last 15 games.

Finally, a home-field advantage
After posting the worst home record in all of MLB from 2014-17, the Phillies have the majors' best home record this season at 17-6.

The Phils have outhomered their opponents, 32-19, at Citizens Bank Park and outhit them .258 to .220.

While most would be inclined to attribute this to fans packing the park to finally see a winner, that really hasn't been the case so far. The Phillies' attendance is improved from the last few seasons, but they're still at just 58.3 percent capacity at CBP. 

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