A Phillies Deep Look at (just past) the Season's Midway Point
Diesel, AKA Shaquille O’Neal, held a concert after the Phillies game Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. Donning a Phillies muscle shirt, and dancing with the Phanatic while spinning an eclectic mix of music and getting the fans singing in unison to Abba, Bon Jovi, and Calum Scott (of course), among others, the Big Aristotle grabbed the mic and made a declarative statement to the crowd that really sent them into a frenzy.
“Philly, we’re winning the World Series this year,” he stated.
If the Phillies hit like they did before Shaq took the stage, he could be right.
The offense had a historic night. So historic, that Baseball-Reference’s Stathead service and the Phillies’ official postgame statistics couldn’t even agree on the rarity of the event.
The Phillies beat the Washington Nationals Saturday 19-4. The Phillies said it was the 44th time they scored 19 runs in a game in their history (since 1901). Stathead said it was more rare than that and insisted it was only the 17th time (and listed the other 16 dates too).
Regardless of which is right and which is wrong, it was the first time they scored at least 19 since scoring 20 against the Miami Marlins in April of 2018. Also, the Phillies scored all 19 runs before the end of the fifth inning for only the third time in my lifetime (I’m careening toward 50). The other two were the famous 23-22 game in Chicago in 1979:
And the game in which Von Hayes hit two homers in the first inning (including a grand slam) as the Phillies set a franchise record for runs scored in a game by clobbering the New York Mets 26-7 in 1985:
(Broadcasting note: I kind of miss when they used to show you the players defensively in the field before each team’s first time up. That was just one of the ways we got to know who all the players were, what they looked like, how they wore their uniforms, etc. A little thing, but a lost art of baseball broadcasting.)
That’s pretty rare.
Alec Bohm was the offensive star with four hits, including two homers and six RBI. Kyle Schwarber hit a grand slam. Nick Castellanos locked up his All-Star-worthy first half of the season with three more hits and three more RBI and another home run:
Castellanos has now hit a Home Run on the day that Twitter died pic.twitter.com/ILzQKNEwkL
— Phillies Muse (@Phillies_Muse) July 1, 2023
Zack Wheeler wasn’t great – but didn’t have to be. He allowed four runs on seven hits over five innings and was quite critical of his pitching to this point this season after the game, which got me thinking… do I really want to sit here and walk you through 19 runs against a woeful Nationals team, or would I rather just reassess the players on their first half of the season?
Yes, technically Saturday’s game was the first game of the second half of the season, but I was at a friend’s 50th birthday party Friday night and missed that stellar display of ineptitude, and Bob was originally going to write about it, but basically said “screw this” when the Phillies couldn’t get runners in scoring position home – again, against the Nats (They were 1-8 Friday but 9-for-16 Saturday).
The project became big. Cumbersome, even. Saturday night turned into Sunday morning. I decided to wait further, until after Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Washington, to actually finish this epic.
I decided to tackle this, as writers often do, with a grading system. But rather than go with the boring A-to-F system, I decided on something a little bit different.
The Phillies like to celebrate their success on base by flashing a thumbs up. As such, that’s how I’m going to grade them. Two thumbs up are for players exceeding expectations. One thumb up is for a player who is doing their job well, even if they were expected to do it at – or near – that level. Sideways thumbs are for guys who have just been inconsistent. They’ve been OK at times and not OK at other times. They’ll need to be better than they’ve been for Shaq’s prediction to come true. One thumb down is for a player who has been disappointing to this point and has not lived up to their expectation. Two thumbs down are for players who have not been good and have been, or are, a detriment to any championship aspirations.
So, without further ado…
Two Thumbs Up
Nick Castellanos – Casty almost deserves his own category. He’s easily been the Phillies best player, and he was rewarded by being named the team’s lone All-Star selection Sunday. He’s done a complete 180 degree turn from 2022. He’s among the league leaders in batting average (.316 – 3rd in NL), hits (101 – 4th in NL), doubles (26 – tied for 2nd in the NL), and RBIs (54 – tied for 7th in the NL). Not to mention, he’s turned himself into a better defensive right fielder than he was a season ago. He’s now on pace to surpass 20 homers this season and 200 hits is still in sight, which would make him the first Phillie since Jimmy Rollins’ MVP season of 2007 to reach that plateau.
Bryson Stott – Stott didn’t make the All-Star team, but he definitely had himself in the conversation. He has the most hits (51) with two strikes in baseball. He’s hitting .294 for the season and has an OPS+ of 128 all while being really good defensively at 2B. Oh, and he’s 14-for-15 in stolen base attempts, too. He’s been a difference maker for the Phillies.
Taijuan Walker – It’s amazing to think that just about a month ago, many people were ready to declare the signing of Walker a bust. Then he turned in one of the best months of the season on the mound in baseball and now he’s being heaped with praise. Walker is 5-0 in his last five starts with a 0.84 ERA, a 0.844 WHIP and batters are hitting just .174 against him.
Ranger Suarez – As good as Walker’s been, Suarez has been right there with him – until Sunday. Prior to his rough outing against the Nats, Ranger was lights out for six straight starts. Suarez was only 2-1 in those, but that’s because the Phillies didn’t hit for him. Imagine only getting two wins out of six tries in which you post an 1.35 ERA and a 0.975 WHIP. Sunday was ugly. He got himself in a jam with a couple walks and eventually gave up a grand slam to Stone Garrett and later a solo homer to Jeimer Candelario before exiting after 5 1/3 innings. Still, he’s been really good, making this one likely a radar blip.
Craig Kimbrel – There were a lot of people who thought Kimbrel was washed up coming into this season, and after letting up a walk off grand slam to Max Muncy in a loss to the Dodgers on May 3, Kimbrel’s ERA ballooned to 8.25 and it seemed like the skeptics were right. Since that home run, Kimbrel has been flat out nasty. In 22 games he has a 1.23 ERA and has allowed just nine hits and five walks (for a WHIP of 0.636) while striking out 37. He has a stranglehold on the closer’s role and has been a huge part of the Phillies bounce back.
Andrew Vasquez – Probably the most unlikely guy to make it into the two thumbs up category. Vasquez wasn’t even expected to make the team at the beginning of the season, but has done nothing but be very good in a multi-inning relief role. A 1.70 ERA and a 1.081 WHIP from a soft-tossing lefty who throws about 80 percent sliders? That’s a huge plus for the Phillies.
One Thumb Up
Alec Bohm – Bob may have summed up Alec Bohm best on Twitter Saturday:
Three years later, I have no idea what Alec Bohm is or what he can be.
— Bob Wankel (@BobWankelCB) July 1, 2023
The reason is because Bohm has this stretches of fits and starts where he hits the ball down into the ground seemingly every at bat, which can drive you crazy. But then he has these stretches where he elevates balls, and, well, he does this:
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) July 1, 2023
And then there’s the fact that he bears down with RISP about as well as anyone in the sport. This season, Bohm has come to the plate 92 times with RISP. He is hitting .354 with three homers and 40 RBI. It’s one of the reasons he leads the team and is tied with Castellanos for 7th the NL in RBI (54). A run producer hitting .277 for the season batting toward the bottom of your lineup? Not too shabby. And one more thing, he’s played decent defensively at both third base and first base this season.
Brandon Marsh – Marsh was on fire in April, cooled off in May, went through an absolutely horrid stretch in early June (striking out 25 times in 49 plate appearances) only to rebound nicely with some excellent production as the month came to a close. All told, a .279/.356/.470 slash line with an .826 OPS is very good – especially for a guy who usually bats in the bottom third of the lineup. Marsh would have made it into the two thumbs up category were it not for that lengthy stretch of unproductive hitting, but also because, although his defensive metrics look good, he has made his share of fielding blunders in centerfield, and baserunning gaffes. There was another one that occurred Sunday when he pulled up on a fly ball in the left centerfield gap and it fell between he and Schwarber and led to an eventual Washington grand slam.
Kody Clemens – Although he was sent back down to the minors on Sunday, Clemens provided some much needed balance in the lineup and came through with some key hits all while filling in for a couple of months as the Phillies first baseman against righties. He’s going to play more 2B, 3B, and left field in the minors and I expect we’ll see him back before the season is out as a lefty bench bat.
Cristian Pache – You knew when the Phillies acquired him you were going to get one of the best defensive outfielders in the sport – and frankly, maybe the best. But, there was never any expectation whatsoever of him contributing offensively. It’s been a small sample size, interrupted by a month-long stint on the I.L., but Pache, playing mostly against lefties, is slashing .310/.356/.524 for an .879 OPS. That’s a bonus and a surprise for a guy who has basically become the team’s fourth outfielder.
Garrett Stubbs – The dude barely plays, but when he does, he’s always in the middle of everything. He’s the best bunter on the team and leads the league in bunt hits. He’s a positive voice in the clubhouse and a pretty underrated catcher to boot. He does a lot of homework and works feverishly with the pitching staff. He’s everything you could want in a backup catcher.
Christopher Sanchez – It’s only been four starts and he doesn’t have a win yet, but Sanchez has been a pleasant surprise in a volatile No. 5 starter spot for the Phillies. A 3.26 ERA and a 1.138 WHIP has been a shot in the arm. Considering he struggled for a good while in AAA, this is as positive an outcome as the team could hope for.
Gregory Soto – Much like Kimbrel, Soto’s overall numbers are clouded more by a slow start than what he’s been for a while now. In the last two months he has a 1.000 WHIP, but even better is the sample since June 1. In 11 appearances he has a 0.96 ERA and has allowed just six base runners. He’s still prone to the occasional bad inning, but he’s only had four appearances this season where he’s given up multiple runs. Considering he’s made 36 appearances, that’s not all that bad.
Matt Strahm – Where would the Phillies be right now without the effort Strahm gave them the first two months of the season? He’s cooled off some since, and the Phillies are being careful not to overuse him, so his appearances haven’t been as frequent, but on the whole, Strahm has been a jack-of-all-trades, and has mostly done the job asked of him, whether it was as a starter expected to eat multiple innings, an opener, a high leverage reliever, or where he’s settled into now – as a middle relief option who keeps games close. A 1.032 WHIP is nothing to sneeze at.
Jose Alvarado – He was on track to be a two thumbs up player and a potential All-Star until a forearm injury knocked him out for an extended stretch. Since coming back, he’s been OK, but just OK. The dominance of pre-injury Alvarado isn’t there. The good news, he’s not blowing up and has shown an ability to pitch out of trouble, so the Phillies are confident the big guy can get back to his early-season self.
Jeff Hoffman – There was nothing prior to the Phillies calling up Hoffman that gave an indication that he would be a good addition to the bullpen. He was sporadic at best during his previous MLB career, was terrible at worst, and was wild as hell down in Lehigh Valley. But since his callup, he’s thrown in 17 games with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.145 WHIP. That’s way better than expected. Thus the thumb up.
Trea Turner – If this post was written a month ago, Turner would have definitely been in the thumbs down category. But since June 1st he’s looked a little more like the player the Phillies expected when they gave him a $300 million contract in the offseason. In that time Turner is slashing .274/.349/.407 for a .756 OPS. It’s not MVP-caliber like many predicted (including yours truly), but it’s definitely better than the .236/.280/.371 with a .651 OPS he had prior to June 1.
Kyle Schwarber – You could basically take everything I just said about Turner and apply it here, too. Schwarber has started to salvage what was trending toward an abysmal season. Since June 2nd he’s slashing .239/.352/.567 with a .919 OPS and he’s among the major league leaders with 22 home runs, but he is still hitting .188 and the Phillies have to get him out of left field soon because he’s laboring out there – and that’s me being polite. Get Schwarber into a DH role (assuming Bryce Harper can play 1B) and have him simply focus on hitting the ball, and everything should be just fine for the clubhouse leader. Speaking of Harper…
Bryce Harper – This guy is a freak of nature. Coming back from Tommy John surgery in record time (he still wasn’t supposed to be back, as of this writing, and he’s played for two months now), and being productive in the process speaks to the generational talent that he is. That said, he is scuffling a little. He doesn’t have a home run since May 25th, and that’s eating him up. Pitchers have basically stopped throwing him fastballs, and he’s turned into a Clint Eastwood movie, because he’s having trouble with the curve. He still gets on base a ton and has some key hits – he got on base all four times he came to the plate in Sunday’s loss – but to get where the Phillies want to get to, they need Harper to be himself. His numbers are good for a more run of the mill player, but for Harper, it’s not meeting an expectation…. yet.
Josh Harrison – He was going to be in the thumbs down category until June rolled around as well. Since May 30th, Harrison is slashing .333/.395/.485 for an .880 OPS. Manager Rob Thomson believes this uptick in performance has been from an opportunity to play more. If Harrison can sustain this, he’s a valuable and versatile bench piece. If not, he could be jettisoned for a better option.
Aaron Nola – The most polarizing figure on the Phillies thanks to Rhys Hoskins being done for the season with a knee injury, Nola hasn’t done enough to silence the critics. While his underlying numbers are pretty strong, especially compared to the rest of the pitchers in the sport, his ERA is high because he’s been prone to more home runs than usual and has had more blow up innings than usual. He’s had his battles adjusting to the pitch clock but alternately he’s had some very good outings, including throwing six shutout innings against Atlanta. He needs to be more consistent in the second half though, because the first half wasn’t good enough.
Zack Wheeler – He’s a lot like Nola, only without the slew of home runs allowed. He said he’s an old school thinker and that ERA matters more to him than underlying analytics. He insisted that it doesn’t matter what the analytics indicate if he’s letting up four runs a game. He’s right. Like Nola, he too needs to be more like himself in the second half.
Seranthony Dominguez – It’s hard to determine what to make of Ser’s season so far, which is why he lands in this category. It started poorly, but then he had an extended stretch that was very good. From April 12th to June 8th Dominguez had a 0.87 ERA and a 1.258 WHIP in 24 games. But the rest of the season (8 games) He has a 15.63 ERA and a 2.528 WHIP. Both sample sizes are small, and Dominguez is on the I.L. with an oblique strain, although he’s expected back right after the All-Star break, but that WHIP hasn’t been great, even during the good stretch. He needs to be better, especially once the games get more tense in the latter part of the second half.
Yunior Marte – The numbers don’t indicate it yet, but there’s a lot to like about Marte, which is why Thomson and the Phillies are so bullish on him:
Yunior Marte, Wicked 87mph Slider. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/nXZn2Vn8ab
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 10, 2023
That slider, is now over 90 MPH and can be thrown on both sides of the plate. Thomson told me Saturday that they wanted Marte to throw the slider with a little more authority, and he has. Since May 20th he’s had a 1.65 ERA and is basically averaging a strikeout per inning. It was a rough start, which lands him in the sideways thumb category, but he’s trending toward thumb up.
J.T. Realmuto – He wanted to make a liar out of me with his two-run homer in the first inning Sunday…
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) July 2, 2023
But if we’re being honest, Realmuto hasn’t been himself this year other than two quick spurts. With the exception of a six-game stretch in mid-June where he went 9-for-19 with seven extra base hits, Realmuto is 12-for-88 (.136) since May 25th. For a guy who is consistently in the No. 5 spot in the order, it’s not good enough. Harper is likely not getting as many fastballs with Realmuto struggling so much. If Realmuto were hitting, Harper may get more pitches to hit. But until that changes, it’s causing a problem in the middle of the Phillies lineup. He came up in a big spot in the bottom of the seventh on Sunday with the Phillies rallying and two runners on and one out and bounced into an inning-ending double play. He’s batting .181 with RISP this season. Now, Realmuto was in a similar spot about this time last year and then had an incredible second half and was arguably the team’s offensive MVP, so it can change quickly, but for now, he’s been disappointing.
Edmundo Sosa – There was so much hope for Sosa in Spring Training. There was a belief he would be a guy who could play four-or-five different positions and be a super utility guy, playing four times a week. He’s mostly played third base, and he’s not as good defensively there as he is at shortstop. At the plate, he’s been exposed and is a hole in the lineup on most nights. A slash of .243/.263/.393 doesn’t cut it for a lineup regular. Sosa still has value as a spot starter/defensive replacement/pinch runner, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies look to upgrade here barring a turn around before the August 1st trade deadline.
Connor Brogdon and Andrew Bellatti – I put these guys together because they have had the same fate. Both started the season pitching really well. Both were then overused in relief, and both guys stopped being effective. So much so that they were sent down to AAA. Both guys were expected to be a big part of the Phillies bullpen, and the fact that they are in the minors is in part a testament to the Phillies overall bullpen depth, but it’s also a sign that they weren’t quite meeting expectations. In Bellatti’s defense, there was an arm injury, but they also weren’t comfortable enough to recall him after a rehab assignment. He’s got good numbers in AAA right now, and could be close to returning, but the Phillies have still held off. There has to be a reason. Brogdon doesn’t have the same defense. I’m sure we’ll see both again this season, but when and in what role is impossible to predict.
Two Thumbs Down
Dylan Covey – I guess I understand why the Phillies signed him off the waiver wire when they did, because they needed a live arm, but the guy just isn’t passable as a pitcher on a championship contender. And the fact that he’s holding down a roster spot continues to befuddle me. I know the Phillies like having a multi-inning reliever who can eat innings in blowouts, and pitch otherwise in a pinch, but I’m not sure that should be a priority to having another experienced bullpen arm, like Bellatti or Brogdon. Heck, even some guys on the “no grade” list below are better options. It’s just weird.
Bailey Falter – We’ll always remember how well he pitched down the stretch in 2022 to help the Phillies make the playoffs, but he was true to his surname in 2023 because he kept making mistake after mistake and costing his team games. He also hasn’t handled his demotion well. I get the sense he’s a change of scenery candidate and he may not throw again for the big club.
Jake Cave – Cave had a slow start, and also ran into some bad luck at the plate with some hard outs. He was a roster casualty as Harper’s return neared, and was sent down to AAA. He’s been Babe Ruth in Lehigh Valley though (.368/.446/.715; 1.161 OPS, 13HR, 44RBI), and is likely going to get a recall as soon as Harper proves he can play 1B.
Dalton Guthrie – Dalton, we hardly knew you. Now with the Giants.
Drew Ellis – He had that one game in Washington.
Darick Hall – He was recalled Sunday, replacing Kody Clemens, and got the start at 1B (He went 1-for-4). But, this is likely just a short test run for Hall. Unless he provides instant offense, he’s not going to stick on the roster when the Phillies could have Cave in left and Schwarber as a DH.
Luis Ortiz – He’s been up and down a couple times and was serviceable in 13 relief innings. We could see him again at some point. He’d be better than Covey too.
McKinley Moore – He had a baptism by fire early in the season and was throttled. But, the Phillies like him as a future bullpen option. He’s on the minor league I.L. at the moment.
Eric Uelman – Threw one inning (it wasn’t good) before being optioned back down to the minors.