The Phillies made somewhat of a surprising move today, announcing that final three games of the season against the Mets will be Pete Mackanin’s last as the team’s skipper.
Had you asked me in July if this move was going to be made, I’d have adamantly said yes. The Phillies were 29-58, slinking into the All Star break like a wounded animal, trying to simply find shelter to bleed out the remainder of the season. Attendance was slipping to a Citizens Bank Park all-time low and morale was simply non-existent. It was just a matter of time before the organization decided to part ways with Mackanin.
But then something quite impressive happened. It wasn’t amazing, jaw-dropping or miraculous. Willie Mays, Babe Ruth or Nolan Ryan didn’t walk through the clubhouse doors and electrify the last place Phillies into a shocking playoff team. Let’s be honest, this isn’t a Disney movie. Changes did occur, however, and they were clearly for the better.
The Phillies began to play respectable baseball after the midsummer classic. Again, it wasn’t 30 games over .500 baseball, but it was much improved. In fact, in the second half of the season, the Phillies are 35-37 going into this final weekend of the year. A sweep of the Mets means an over .500 record in the second half and a 67 win season. More importantly, if they can find a way to pick up a three game sweep this weekend, it will put the Phillies just two games back of the Mets in the standing to end the season. While no one anticipated the Phillies being relevant this season, many predicted the Mets to bounce back, if pitching remained healthy. Some even quoted them as a World Series contender. Yet here they are, with three games remaining in 2017, with 69 wins. The Phillies could prevent the Mets from securing 70 wins. This is a team that fell just shy of a World Series title two years ago. TWO years. Talk about a complete 180. I predicted 71 for the year, so my estimations are still a little high, but after the way the team played in the first half, one could have foreseen this team losing 105 games or more.
The Phillies finally did the right thing midway through June and began the ascension of young minor league talent to the Major League roster. I had beensaying this was the right practice since May. What was the difference anyway. This team was destined to finish in last place in the NL East and fight for the worst record in baseball with the 25-man roster it had in April. So why not give the young guys a shot? It could still be slop, but at least it was a different slop. We, as fans, would get to see a glimpse of what the future might hold, or not hold, in the next four months by promoting the young players.
And the Phillies finally listened. On June 30, the team promoted outfielder Nick Williams to the Major League roster. Williams was followed quickly by the return of Aaron Altherr from the disabled list. Then on August 10, the organization promoted a guy by the name of Rhys Hoskins. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He has a slight knack for hitting the ball a long, long way with frequency. We all know the budding narrative of Hoskins by now, as he became the fastest player to hit multiple homerun plateaus.
After the September roster expansion, the Phillies added J.P. Crawford from AAA Lehigh Valley as well. Crawford has shown spots of brilliance at the plate and especially in the field. He’s proven he can play a multitude of different positions, including third base, which seemingly limits the days of Maikel Franco.
These players began to band together to assemble a half decent looking lineup every night with a look into the next decade if things progress the way the Phillies hope. A lineup of Alfaro behind the dish, Hoskins at first, Crawford somewhere in the infield after that, Williams, Altherr and Odubel Herrera will be joined in the outfield by any number of a handful of minor league prospects, including Adam Haseley or Mickey Moniak.
With a lineup that is starting to flourish, and play monumentally better in August and September than it did in the first two months of the season, does it still make sense to fire Pete Mackanin? I’m not so sure anymore. The players appeared to have liked playing for him and responded well to his managerial decisions. In his two plus seasons as manager since taking over for Ryne Sandberg on June 26, 2015, Mackanin was 172-237. While those numbers aren’t overly impressive simply using the eye test, Mackanin was eerily similar to Sixers’ head coach Brett Brown, who has had little talent around him in the past years, but has been stockpiling young players, who the team believes is the future. You could tell the Phillies were on the same path and trajectory as the Sixers, and were beginning to climb out of the hole they’ve been in. Whomever the Phillies decide will be the next manager will be inheriting a team that may not be too far away from competing.
Mackanin won’t completely be leaving the organization, though, as he’s accepted a role as special assistant to the General Manager beginning next season.
Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports