Here's What To Look For Now That The Phillies Are Watchable
That’s how much time had passed between Ryan Howard crumpling on the first base line at Citizen’s Bank Park after making the final out of that soul-crushing 1-0 loss in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, and last night. The way I figure it, that’s also how long it’s been since Phillies fans could tune in and watch a game with some type of rational hope. Last night just happened to mark the Major League debut of J.P. Crawford.
Speaking of which…
Look, I have no idea if Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and Rhys Hoskins will be stars. That’s not my focus here. What I do know, is that I don’t have to watch any more lineups filled with has-been placeholders or low-to-no ceiling prospects keeping seats warm until competence arrives. No more bulk of the playing time going to the Jeff Francoeurs, Grady Sizemores and Michael Saunders of the world. Finally.
In fact, the Phillies were a Hyun soo-Kim away from fielding a fun and intriguing lineup from top to bottom last night. Literally.
Ben Lively with two hits, 4 RBI, and an opposite field crank off Jake deGrom? Sure, what the hell, why not?
Anyway, the past six years have been brutal. From 2012 to 2014, the team’s front office was too inept, or too loyal, to recognize that the house was burning around them. By the time they finally figured out what everyone else already seemed to know, it would require another three years before any optimism would return. And now here we are. Last night, a 9-1 pantsing of the Mets in which the Phillies’ revamped offense beat the piss out of Jacob deGrom, is the line of demarcation to the next step–wherever it may lead. What we do know is that this roster now has enough intrigue, youth, and potential to make watching the Phillies a palatable endeavor over the final 24 games. Here’s a viewing guide:
1. JP Crawford- Will Crawford flash the plus defense, advanced plate discipline, and contact tools that made him one of the game’s most highly regarded prospects over the past few years, or will he be the player who spent almost an entire calendar year fledgling offensively at Lehigh Valley before coming to life over the past two months? Here’s the good news: While Crawford only hit .243 this season at AAA, he still led the International League with 79 walks. Even when he’s not at his best, the 22-year-old knows how to grind through at-bats and get on base at an above average rate. His ability to bounce back and work through adversity is another reason for optimism. He hit .287/.385/.513 with nine homers in the 51 games before his promotion. It’s not a make-or-break month for Crawford, but a nice finish would go a long way to easing doubts. It would also be a big middle finger from Crawford to Baseball America, which dropped him to 92 in their most recent prospect rankings. And that would be fun.
2. Rhys Hoskins- Much has been written about Hoskins’ impact. Expect the home run pace to slow. There’s no chance he’ll continue to go deep once every 7.58 ABs. Consider this: 36.4% of the fly balls that he’s hit over his first 26 games have resulted in home runs (his rate was only 18.2% at AAA). He’ll regress. Still, he makes contact on over 90% percent of his swings in the strike zone, hits to all fields, and has demonstrated good patience at the plate given that he’s drawn walks in 14.3% percent of his PAs. After going 2-for-3 with a double and two walks last night to raise his OPS 1.195, I’m not sure the guy is human at this point. He’s been a machine.
3. The Outfield- I like Odubel Herrera. I also like Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. I think all three players are intriguing future options for the Phillies, but I’m not sure that all three will be around next season or beyond. Hoskins looks to have legit power at first base, but where else is the power coming from? Will the Phillies be content with a Williams/Herrera/Altherr outfield that has an upside of 60-65 homers? I’m not so sure about that. And if they’re not, who is the odd man out?
4. The Rotation- The Phillies’ rotation is a mess. Aaron Nola is locked in for 2018. Can the team say with confidence that any other guy to take the ball this season is a certified lock for the rotation in next season? There are the more established guys like Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez, both of whom have struggled with productivity and staying healthy this season. They’ll have the inside track, but there’s no guarantees there. Then there are the lesser-knowns, like Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter, and Jake Thompson. They’ve all been extremely inconsistent. They will get another 4-5 starts to make their cases for next year, though.
5. Pete Mackanin and staff- Everyone is on board with keeping Brett Brown with the Sixers, so I guess it’s only fair that Mackanin gets a shot to stick around as the Phillies get better. The players and front office like Mackanin, but he hasn’t shown that he can be either a great leader or an outstanding tactician. If Mackanin does survive, there’s no way the entire staff comes back. The Phillies weren’t supposed to compete for the worst record in baseball this season. Maybe a strong September changes things, but it’s probable that someone will pay for that.