Rhys Hoskins Is Quietly Leading Phillies’ Latest Surge: Thoughts After Phillies 4, Cardinals 0

PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Rhys Hoskins first hurt himself last season fielding a ball awkwardly against the Washington Nationals during a July 29th doubleheader.

At the time, the Phillies were 4 1/2 games out of first place, but you could tell the team was playing better ball. Bryce Harper was in the middle of an MVP season. Zack Wheeler was pitching at a Cy Young level.

And Hoskins was on one of his hot streaks.

This one was a little different than normal. It was more than just a week or two. It started in a series against the San Diego Padres over July 4th weekend.

Hoskins had entered the game on July 3rd mired in a miserable 1-for-30 slump in which he had struck out 14 times. His splits had plummeted to .221/.295/.740 and he was hardly providing the pop in the middle of the lineup behind Harper that the team needed if it was going to contend.

But then the hot string started, and “Rhys Lightning” emerged.

Over the next 21 games, Hoskins was sensational. He slashed .324/.460/1.210 with 17 extra-base hits, including six homers. He had 19 RBIs and walked the same amount of times he struck out (17).

Not surprisingly, his offensive explosion helped get the Phillies back into contention. They were only 12-9 in those 21 games, but the N.L. East was wide open. The Mets, who were leading the division, were floundering. The Braves, who didn’t go on their tear until a couple weeks later, were still mourning the loss of Ronald Acuna, Jr. for the season.

The division was there for the Phillies to take — if they could keep the offense going. In those 21 games, the Phillies averaged 5.5 runs per game. In the 79 games prior, they averaged just 4.3 runs per game. Hoskins was making a difference.

He missed a weekend series in Pittsburgh, trying to let the injury, which he was feeling in both his groin and abdomen, heal up enough so he could return. The Phillies lost the first game of that series but then won the next two before heading to Washington for four games.

Hoskins came back for that series, and picked up where he left off after knocking off the rust. He didn’t play the first game, only getting a pinch-hit appearance, and the Phillies won. He wore an 0-for-4 collar in the second game, but the Phillies still won. But in the third game of the series, Hoskins had a double, a homer and three RBI to lead the Phils to their fifth straight win.

The next day, he would compile three hits, and a couple more RBIs as the winning streak reached six games.

But playing the field was incredible uncomfortable all the time and somewhat painful often. There was no designated hitter in NL games for the Phillies to take advantage of in 2021, so Hoskins had to go on the IL.

The era of good baseball continued for another weekend as the Phillies swept he Mets and temporarily moved into first place. However, it wouldn’t be long before the opposition realized the Phillies offense, without Hoskins, was a one-trick pony. Get around Harper and the rest of the lineup was a cake walk.

The Phillies lost 8-of-11, averaging just 2.6 runs per game, and fell out of first place just as quickly as they moved into it.

Hoskins tried one more time. He made a triumphant return on Aug. 22 in San Diego, hitting two homers and igniting a 7-4 win. But, it was blatantly obvious, he couldn’t move.

After an off day on Monday, he pinch hit on Tuesday against Tampa, then made the start Wednesday against the Rays, hitting another home run. But the pain was too much, Hoskins had to shut it down, and get season-ending surgery. That, combined with starting pitcher Zach Eflin also hitting the IL with a season-ending injury was the death knell for the 2021 Phillies.

I recounted that story to tell you Hoskins is writing a compelling sequel to it this season. I’m not just saying that because he homered for the fourth time in the last five games Sunday, as the Phillies defeated St. Louis, 4-0, taking the series. It was their seventh series win in nine played under manager Rob Thomson.

No, it’s because Hoskins really has quietly been superb.

First, let’s look at the last 21 games, an identical stretch to his breakout last season, and see how they compare.

  • 2021 (7/3-7/29): 87PA .324/.460/1.210, 6HR, 19RBI, 17XBH, 17BB, 17K
  • 2022 (6/12-7/3): 88PA .324/.443/1.133, 6HR, 13RBI, 13XBH, 16BB, 16K

The numbers are eerily similar, aren’t they? The team’s record is also identical — 12-9 in those games.

The difference is, last year, the Phillies had an MVP batting in front of Hoskins. This year, he’s been missing for the past eight games. As has Jean Segura, who was the team’s second-best hitter in terms of average a season ago.

Hoskins along with Kyle Schwarber, who was the National League player of the month of June, have been carrying the Phillies offensively while keeping them in the playoff race while Harper and Segura are on the mend.

But for Hoskins, this time it isn’t just 21 games. This time, he’s been going good for much longer.

The low point of Hoskins season came on May 5, following a loss to the Mets. His slash line at that point was .187/.292/.633. He had only 2 homers and 9 RBI. In 106 plate appearances he had only walked 14 times while striking out 31 times. The Phillies were a disappointing 11-15.

The next two games were postponed by rain, and then Hoskins sat the first game of a doubleheader on Sunday. It was the reset he needed.

Since then, Hoskins has been an All-Star caliber player. He won’t be in the All-Star game, but when you look at the next 54 games, it’s no secret that the Phillies’ resurgence coincided with Hoskins playing at another level.

Yes, the managerial change woke up a sleepwalking clubhouse. Yes, Schwarber had a monster June. Yes, Wheeler and Aaron Nola are pitching like potential Cy Young candidates again. And ,yes, Harper was tracking toward another season with MVP caliber numbers before fracturing his thumb. All of those things contributed to the Phillies going 31-23 since that aforementioned loss to the Mets.

But let’s be fair to Hoskins and show what his direct impact has been in that time:

  • 2022 (5/8-7/3) 231PA .289/.377/.949, 15HR, 33RBI, 26XBH, 27BB, 52k

Pretty strong numbers, especially when you compare them to the rest of baseball. Hoskins ranks in the top 25 in the majors in the following categories since May 8:

  • OPS .949 (6th)
  • Home runs 15 (Tied for 6th)
  • Slugging Percentage .572 (7th)
  • Walks 27 (Tied for 12th)
  • OBP .377 (14th)
  • Hits 58 (Tied for 14th)
  • RBI 33 (Tied for 18th)
  • Runs 32 (Tied for 23rd)
  • Batting Average .289 (25th)

Know how many other players in all of Major League Baseball also rank in the top 25 in each of these categories since May 8th?

One. Paul Goldschmidt. You know, the early frontrunner for National League MVP.

The point is, Hoskins is producing on an elite level for the Phillies and has done so for longer than ever before in his career.

Is it sustainable? Time will tell. But instead of being the streaky guy who gets hot for two weeks, then disappears for two weeks, etc. Hoskins basically took the first month of a season with a reduced spring training to find his feet, and since then has been one of the best and most consistent batters in the game. If the Phillies are going to survive five more weeks without Harper, Hoskins is going to have to maintain this level.

Hitting a home run off Adam Wainwright on national television that ended up being the game-winning RBI is a good way to start:

Hoskins also added a double off of Wainwright after he struck out in the first. Hoskins is now 6-for-10 with three homers in his career vs. Wainwright.

Other News and Notes from Sunday

  • Just another seven shutout innings from Zack Wheeler. Ho hum. Actually, it wasn’t that easy. The Cardinals worked him and fouled off 32 pitches to drive his pitch count up early. Despite allowing a baserunner in each of the first five innings, St. Louis never had a runner reach third base and Wheeler shut them down in the fifth, sixth and seventh. After allowing a leadoff walk to Dylan Carlson in the fifth, Wheeler retired the last nine batters he faced. He finished with five strikeouts and allowed just four singles.
  • The Phillies are going to need to win most of the games Wheeler and Aaron Nola pitch the rest of the way, especially in the near term. With Kyle Gibson struggling mightily of late, the starting rotation depth is being challenged. Zach Eflin went on the IL last week, moving Bailey Falter into the rotation. On Sunday, Ranger Suarez was suffering from back spasms and was immediately put on the IL, retroactive to June 30. Manager Rob Thomson said Christopher Sanchez would be recalled to make the start Tuesday against Washington. It’s starting to get dicey for the Phillies, who don’t have a lot of starter depth in the minors, which makes one wonder if President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski might look to add an arm sooner than the August 2 trade deadline.

  • J.T. Realmuto also homered in this game to give the Phillies a comfortable cushion late in the ballgame:

It was only Realmuto’s sixth homer of the season, but he had two hits, two RBIs and his 11th stolen base of the season. Oh, and he threw another runner out trying to steal. These could be hopeful signs for the Phillies that the old J.T. is coming back.

  • With the bullpen shorthanded because of recent use, Nick Nelson was called on in the eighth inning. He worked around a walk and got through the inning. Meanwhile, Corey Knebel had his best outing in weeks in the ninth. It wasn’t a save situation, but he got Goldschmidt to ground out and then blew away both the red hot Nolan Arenado and lefty Nolan Gorman to end the game.

  • In other injury news, Didi Gregorius is still dealing with discomfort in his left knee, an injury that caused him to miss a stretch of time earlier in the season. He had an injection prior to Saturday’s game that is supposed to help ease the pain, but missed his second straight game Sunday. If the shot doesn’t help, there’s a chance Gregorius may go back on the IL in the next couple days. Johan Camargo (right knee strain) is eligible to come off the IL on Wednesday.
  • Oscar Mercado, we hardly knew ya. Mercado, was claimed by the Phillies after he was designated for assignment by Cleveland on June 27, was DFA’d by the Phillies after one at bat to make room for Falter last Friday. Mercado was reclaimed by Cleveland Sunday.
  • In a minor league trade, the Phillies sent starting pitcher Corey Oswalt to the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations. Oswalt did not pitch well for AAA Lehigh Valley after the Phillies acquired him from San Francisco earlier this season. He made 11 appearances (six starts) and only lasted 22 2/3 innings. He had a 5.56 ERA and a 1.676 WHIP.
  • If you are looking for a guy who could potentially have his contract selected to come up and start in a pinch for the Phillies, Michael Plassmeyer might be the guy. The 25-year-old who was acquired from the Giants in a trade last month for catcher Austin Wynns, has been decent in four starts with Lehigh Valley. He’s not getting great length, averaging just four innings a start, but he has a 3.31 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP.
  • Monday is the first time since 1916 the Phillies have not been scheduled to play on Independence Day. Major League Baseball should be ashamed of themselves. Yes, because of the strike in 1981 and because of the pandemic in 2020, there were no games on July 4, but they were scheduled. The MLB should be certain that every team plays on Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day. These in-season holidays draw crowds, and more importantly, get kids out to games. I’d even add Juneteenth in there as more and more businesses make it a paid day off for their employees.
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