1 year ago, the Philadelphia Phillies ended with a record of 66-96 and finished last in the NL East. Freddy Galvis, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp, Daniel Nava, and Jeremy Hellickson all got a significant amount of playing time, but by the end of the year the future was shining through promising season finishes from Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, and Nick Williams. One year later, the Phillies just finished their season 3rd in the NL East at 80-82.
Conventional wisdom would tell you that a 14-game improvement in only 1 season means only good things for the future of the team. Unfortunately for the Phillies, conventional wisdom, in this case, is wrong.
I consider myself to be a stats heavy guy. They’re important. Heck, I’m even in school to get a BS in Statistics. But with this article, I’m just going to open with my thoughts on the team just based on how it looked this year. I’ll go more in depth soon, but I think sometimes its important to remember that statistics aren’t everything: you can tell a lot just by watching.
It’s very easy to put a positive spin on a season with a team that hung around the top of the division until the very end and gave its fans the excitement of a playoff race down the stretch for the first time in 7 years. But, behind this surface, there are some very disturbing parts of how this season went, and more specifically how it pertains to the future.
There were some bright spots for the Phillies this season. 24-year old Aaron Nola established himself as an ace in the rotation, and likely earned himself a significant contract extension soon from the team. Rhys Hoskins, who took the league by storm last August, proved to be a valuable slugger in the lineup (albeit a defensive liability). Roman Quinn showed to be an electric player in late August and September, one that the team could rely on in the future. And Seranthony Dominguez, who as late as last year was starting games in A+ Clearwater, proved to be a player with hybrid reliever potential (a la Josh Hader), although he wore down as the season went along.
Many other positives existed as late as early-August, but many of those evaporated into lost hopes. Odubel Herrera, who had a blistering start to the season, was one of the worst hitters in the majors after June. The young trio of Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez all had separate stretches where they showed potential to stick as an effective mid-rotation starter, but none proved consistent and all struggled late as they eclipsed career high inning totals. Maikel Franco appeared to be the real deal in July, then went out with whimper with a cold August and finished the season injured.
All these late struggles led the Phillies to a league worst September record of 9-20 and a finish of 10 games behind the Braves even after having the second-best record in the NL in early August. This collapse was not only a short-term issue: it showed the overall lack of talent on the Phillies roster.
As I mentioned before, Aaron Nola was great this season. He will likely finish 3rd in NL Cy Young voting and will be the Phillies ace for a long time. Rhys Hoskins had a fine season. Everyone had their shining moment: Nick Williams clutch pinch-hit homers early in the season, Franco’s walk-off homerun and amazing bat flip, Pivetta’s 13 K’s against the Cardinals; the list goes on and on. But, in all of this, it’s hard to see a team that is built for future success. After Nola, the rotation is all question marks, especially with Arrieta clearly well past his prime. The lineup does not have one consistent hitter, and a lineup full of streaky hitters will only give you a streaky team. Looking at the rest of the division, it’s hard to see the team competing in the future. It’s easy to point to Gabe Kapler as the reason behind the Phillies late season struggles, but I refuse to do so when the team so clearly lacked the talent to compete with the superior talent in the division.
Even when the team was winning, it didn’t look sustainable. It was fun to see the team in the mix again, which convinced so many fans (myself included) that the team had a shot. But it was a team that never passed the eye test. The lineup never clicked. Some players got hot, which carried the offense at points, but that is not a sustainable way to win baseball games. It’s hard to think back to the 2008 lineup and see any of that in this current team. Hoskins aside, there is not a single player in this core who has established himself as having a future as a hitter. Looking at the Braves, who won the division, and that consistency is there. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson. That is a core of consistent, plus-hitters that are young and will be a part of that franchise for the formidable future. And with the roster they have now, the Phillies cannot compete with that.
The Phillies have not made the playoffs in 7 years. Without significant changes soon, the fans will have to wait even longer.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports