Four things to look forward to in the second half of Phillies season

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The unofficial first half of the season has come to an end, and the American League has claimed supremacy over the National League for the 17th time in 21 games (comparable to just three National League wins and a tie in 2002). With the end of All Star Week, we can now move past the rough first half that was the Phillies’ first 87 games and look ahead to the final 75 games. While it’s hard to look back with content and optimism on a team that went 29-58, nearly 30 games under .500 before the All Star break and is 22.5 games out of first place in the National League East (and not to mention 10.5 games out of fourth place), there is always an air of hope come All Star week that a team can turn things around with a second half charge. I’m in no way saying the Phillies will be making the playoffs this season, as they’ll likely lose more than 100 games, but at least the fans got themselves a much needed break for a few days to watch some entertaining baseball and to recharge their batteries for the approaching second half.

With 75 games left to play, I understand that the Phillies can lose no more than 41 games if they want to fall under the 100 lose threshold. But with my own week to refresh and refocus on baseball writing, I’m choosing to take a different angle than what I did in the first half, and not berate the team before they can retake the field on Friday. As the final 75 games lay ahead of us, I’d like to take a look at four things that Phillies fans have to look forward to in the second half, especially since the overall product on the field won’t be splendid to watch.

 

1. Aaron Nola’s Continued Success
As I mentioned in my lengthy article about who stays and who goes in two season, Aaron Nola has been red hot as of late. The All Star break may actually have been a bad thing for the young righty, who was finding a serious groove on the mound every fifth day. Over his last four starts, Nola has compiled a 3-1 record, but has been dominant in all four games. He’s thrown at least seven innings in all four starts, and went eight his last time out against the San Diego Padres, giving up just two runs and getting hit with a 2-1 loss. In the 29.1 innings pitched, Nola has given up just five earned runs, posting a 1.53 ERA over that stretch. He’s also allowed just 26 baserunners in that span, holding his WHIP under 1.00 in the last four games. The biggest stat, however, is Nola’s rising strikeout rate.

Over the last four times he’s taken the ball, Nola has struck out eight, nine, eight, nine. That’s 34 strikeouts for anyone that didn’t want to do the math! Nola’s career K/9 sits just above 9 strikeouts, but over the last four games, he produced a ratio of 10.4 strikeouts per nine. That’s a trending stat, that if Nola can reciprocate in the second half, will go a long way towards his, and the team’s, future success. The most telling thing about Nola’s rising K rate is the fact that he’s still going deep into ball games. He’s thrown no less than seven innings over the last four starts despite striking out no less than eight. That means he’s being efficient with his other pitches and not wasting pitches that aren’t strikes. I don’t think Aaron Nola will ever be a bonafide ace like a Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer, but if he’s your team’s number two, I think the Phillies will be more than happy.

 

2. Keeping Tabs On the Lower Minor League Talent
We all know that the product on the field at the Major League level leaves a lot to be desired. It’s been a tough few years for Phillies’ fans to endure, and it isn’t going to come to an end this season or next. But the glimmer of light that sits at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel we’ve traversed now for nearly five seasons is getting brighter each day. And I’m not talking about the talent that will likely be up to the Major Leagues when September roles around and rosters expand to 40 players. We know what that will bring. We’ll get a chance to see J.P. Crawford, Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins, Thomas Eshelman, and the likes. But we know that time is coming shortly.

What I really want you to focus on is the continued growth of the talent in the lower classes of the Phillies’ farm system. Look to Clearwater, Lakewood and Williamsport for those answer. The Phillies are stockpiling a significant amount of future Major Leaguers down in those lower levels, ripening them before they get unleashed to the higher classes. Instead of watching Lehigh Valley battle for the International League title again this year, check out the Florida State, South Atlantic and New York-Penn League pennant races as the summer rolls on. There, you’ll find young guys, no more than 22-years-old, battling to get their next promotions. You can check out the arms of Sixto Sanchez, JoJo Romero, Franklyn Kolome and more and see the hitting prowess of Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley. While it may be guys that won’t crack the bigs until 2019 or later, it’s the brightest future that I can see. Give them some of your time this second half.

 

3. The Trade Deadline
When teams are contending for a division lead and look to add an additional piece, they’re known as buyers. They’ll give up Minor League players to get established veterans for a stretch run. When a team is struggling and falls to the bottom of the division standings, they’re called sellers, and will ship that veteran talent to acquire pieces for the future. The Phillies are most assuredly in the latter category. With the July 31 deadline just 18 days away, we’ve reached the period of quiet right before the storm, as teams wait each other out for the first domino to fall. Don’t worry, though, because that piece will fall, and the dogfight will begin, as teams outbid each other for talented players on teams like the Phillies, Giants and White Sox.

This deadline will be a fairly important one for the Phillies to see who the team is able to sell for younger players, and maybe more importantly, who remains on the roster because the team couldn’t move them. Right now, the Phillies have two moveable pieces. Don’t let anyone tell you another number greater than that because it’s simply not true. If Howie Kendrick were fully healthy, that number would be three, but it’s not. I can’t imagine any team taking Kendrick after he’s taken two extended DL trips this season. But, the team does have All-Star reliever Pat Neshek as a valuable veteran bullpen acquisition piece. There are plenty of teams that could use a setup man to bridge the gap between their starter and closer.

And then there’s Tommy Joseph. As much as I’d love for Joseph and Hoskins to co-exist on the Phillies’ roster, I’m starting to believe that will never happen. Joseph is an interesting piece for two reasons. He’s been a consistent hitter throughout his Major League career. Joseph has belted 36 homeruns in 189 games in his career, driven in 90 runs on a bad Phillies team and has hit .255 in two seasons. That’s proving numbers to become a DH in the American League. Of all the American League DH’s this season, only six have hit more homeruns than Joseph, three of which have just two more. And that’s seemingly eliminating Joseph from playing first base in the American League, which he can do successfully. Of the first baseman in the AL, only five have more homeruns. Secondly, Joseph’s contract is extremely team friendly, and trading partners desire that. Joseph is under full team control for another two seasons and isn’t a full UFA until 2023.

Both of those players could individually draw a mid-level prospect, or could be packaged to bring in a few minor leaguers. I’d be surprised to see any other Phillie traded before the deadline. I had hoped to see Hellickson go, but that likely won’t happen. No team will want Benoit either. Regardless of who goes, it’ll be an interesting time for Phillies’ fans to watch.

 

4. August 12, 7:05 @Home Against The Mets
Alright, this one is a little bit of a reach and more of a personal “looking forward to” than anything else, but it’s important, I promise. If you have tickets to this game, or don’t and want to get tickets, I suggest you get to the ballpark a little early that night. The Phillies will be presenting their annual Wall of Fame induction ceremony, and this year, Pete Rose will be going into the Phillies Hall of Fame.

For those of you that don’t know,I admire Pete Rose more than most baseball players because he played the game like every player should. Grit, determination and hustle on every, single pitch. Say what you want about the gambling thing that will keep him out of Cooperstown forever, but Pete Rose is one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, and he is absolutely deserving of this honor. In the five seasons he played in Philadelphia, Rose hit .280 or better three times at the ages of 38-40, and helped the Phillies win their first World Series title in 1980. Rose led the league in on base percentage in 1979 and was a four-time All Star with the Phillies. He led the league in doubles in 1980 and hits in 1981. Jim Thome went in last year and Pat Burrell the year before that.

If you think about it, this may be the last year for quite some time that you see a player inducted who was not on the 2008 World Series winning team. I’d expect to see Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee and Shane Victorino go on soon, followed by Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson when they decide to wrap up their careers. I know the enshrinement of Rose into the Phillies Hall of Fame isn’t going to result in wins on the field, but it’s at least a reason to go to the ballpark in a season devoid of excitement.

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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