It’s always fun to see what the future could have in store for you, or your team. When you see it, you’re motivated to go after it as soon as you can. And four months into the 2018 season, the Philadelphia Phillies looked like a team that could potentially make the playoffs and even win the National League East. But over the last five weeks, they’ve played themselves back to reality.
Going into this season, there was optimism surrounding the Phillies. They were high on some of their everyday position players such as Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, and Cesar Hernandez. They also added former Cy Young Award-winning righty Jake Arrieta and veteran slugger Carlos Santana in free agency. But the recurring notion was that the Phillies would ultimately come up short of an NL Wild Card seeding under first-year manager Gabe Kapler. Currently 76-71, their once promising season is slipping away.
All year long, the Phillies’ Achilles heel has been their offense. Despite the likes of Herrera, Franco, Hoskins, Santana, and Hernandez, among others, the Phillies have been unable to pose a collective threat at the plate. Going into Saturday night, they were 22nd in Major League Baseball in runs (628), 29th in hits (1,176), 26th in batting average (.239), 17th in on-base percentage (.317), 22rd in slugging (.400), and 20th in OPS (.717). The Phillies have just one everyday player hitting above .260 (Franco) and are third in strikeouts (1,368).
This is a team that has youth and players who field their positions well. But, at the plate, this is a team whose offense is derived from its power, and even that facet of their offense is mediocre (the Phillies went into Friday night 15th in home runs with 169). The acquisitions of Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos were viewed as moves that would bolster their offense. But Cabrera has struggled to get on base, and Ramos has only been given 63 at-bats — partially due to injuries.Over the past few weeks, the @Phillies have fallen back to reality: this team is not a postseason-caliber one just yet. Click To Tweet
What has kept the Phillies afloat and in people’s heads this season is the top of their starting rotation.
The most irreplaceable player on the Phillies is righty Aaron Nola. After an encouraging 2017 campaign, Nola has come into his own as one of the premier starting pitchers in the sport. Currently owning a 2.42 ERA and 0.97 WHIP while totaling 201 strikeouts in 193.2 innings pitched, he’s been a force to reckoned with. He’s also never surrendered over four earned runs in a single start this season. While Arrieta hasn’t been an overpowering force on the rubber every fifth day, as he currently sports a 3.66 ERA, his presence has provided Kapler and friends with a second starter who they can feel comfortable with on the mound.
The problem with the Phillies rotation is everyone that comes after Nola and Arrieta. While Nola and Arrieta are certainly a stout one-two pitching duo, the Phillies starting rotation went into Saturday night 13th in ERA (3.96), and their team, as a whole, was 14th in ERA (3.95). Zach Eflin has struggled in the second half of the season, Vince Velasquez hasn’t been able to turn a corner, and Nick Pivetta has been inconsistent. You can’t win with just two reliable starting pitchers — no matter how great they are.
The Phillies have lost 23 of their last 36 games. As a result, they’re 6.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves for the division lead and are five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second NL Wild Card seeding. What ultimately ended the Phillies’ playoff aspirations was them losing seven of their last nine games to the division rival Washington Nationals over the last month — who have been hovering around .500 for the last two months and traded away Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Adams, and Ryan Madson in August.
The Phillies bats have been unable to get anything going this season, their starting pitching has taken a step back, their bullpen is still ailing, and they look like a team that’s not ready to play in the postseason. And although they do have some premier defenders such as Herrera, the Phillies are tied for second in errors (105); they’ve simply run out of gas.
Throughout their struggles, it’s important to remember that there’s a young core in place. Franco, Herrera, and Hoskins are all capable of coming up with a big hit, but they’re a strikeout prone group who has to work on becoming more decisive at the plate; it’s been the factor that’s held their offense back.
While the backend of the Phillies rotation has been shaky in the second half of the season, they’re still a young staff — meaning they could improve in the coming years. You could even argue that Nola can improve — which is scary to think about.
Reaching the playoffs, or winning the division in the near-future, is no definite occurrence for the Phillies; just look at their competition within the NL East. The Braves have talent at nearly every position, and those players account for a young and productive lineup. The Braves also have a reliable starting rotation that’s a mix of budding and veteran arms. Albeit, they project to miss the playoffs, the Nationals are still a very talented team around the diamond and on the hill even if Bryce Harper walks in free agency. The New York Mets are young and have given the Phillies some trouble this season, going 10-6 against them.
The Phillies should be able to improve in the 2019 season, and they have a payroll of just $104.3 million — which is 23rd in MLB. In what is going to be a stacked free agent class, a team on the rise such as the Phillies will have the money and talent to convince a big name or two to make Citizens Bank Park their new home.
The future is bright for the Phillies. But the future is not right now.