Lose 96 in a season and finish in last place and there’s usually not much to feel good about.
Unless you’re the 2017 Phillies.
While GM Matt Klentak decided Friday that Pete Mackanin would not be back to engineer a rebuild that has taken remarkable shape over the past two months, whoever is calling the shots next year should have a lot to work with. The late season emergence of Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, along with the emergence of the bullpen, can’t help but give even cynical Phillies fans reason for hope.
And considering one playoff team, the Twins, lost 103 games last season, indicates it doesn’t necessarily have to take long to go from very bad to good. Whether the 2018 Phillies can follow their lead will require far greater consistency, along with reliable pitching, not to mention plenty of luck.
But that’s for next season, as Klentak will try to build on what’s already here, while trying to add needed pieces on the mound. Before looking too far ahead, though, it’s time to look back.
Then try to forget.
Most Improved: Adam Morgan
After making the team out of spring training, he was quickly sent to the minors, presumably not to be heard from again. But the 27-year-old lefthander re-invented himself, first as a long man out of the bullpen, then as late inning force. Prior to giving up a three-run homer Saturday he’d allowed just three earned runs since July 31.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Altherr
Biggest Disappointment: Maikel Franco
How can the team leader in home runs and RBI’s, who can field his position expertly be a disappointment? Start with his .230 average and .282 on base percentage (OBP). Franco can look great in flashes, but those flashes became more infrequent as the season wore on. The player who was a 2015 version of Rhys Hoskins ( 14, 50. 280 in 80 games) could be trade bait just two years later.
Honorable Mention: Jerad Eickhoff
Best Pitching Performance: Aaron Nola
There's not a lot to choose from here, but Aaron Nola’s 10-game stretch of not allowing more than two runs gets the call. The 24-year-old Nola who began the season as a question mark coming off an injury, has established himself as the staff ace, while last’s year No. 1 Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are filled with uncertainty
Honerable Mention: Pat Neshek
Best Hitting Performance: Rhys Hoskins
After finally being summoned from Lehigh Valley Aug. 10, Hoskins started slow and tailed off at the end. In between, he made history, bashing a major league record 10 homers in his first 17 games. Not only that, but he revitalized a team that had been dreadful all summer, as the Phils played close to .500 b all after the all-star break.
Honorable Mention: Altherr’s grand slam off Clayton Kershaw, triggering the Phils to take three of four from the Dodgers.
Biggest Frustrations: Health, strikeouts
So many, but let’s go with Velasquez continued health issues which have made it difficult to determine how best to use him. While some see him as a potential closer he’s never done it and as a starter he’s usually at over above the 100 pitch mark by the fifth. Right behind is Odubel Herrera’s maddening inability to gauge the strike zone (125 strikeouts, 31 walks), which negate much of his production as a whole. Strikeouts in general are a concern. Six Phils — Herrera, Altherr, Freddy Galvis, Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph and Cesar Hernandez — have over 100 strikeouts and both Franco and Nick Williams are right on the fringe. Making better contact has to be a must next season.
Biggest Reasons for Hope: Young bats
The emergence of all those bats — Hoskins, Williams, Altherr Alfaro — with more waiting in the wings, led by Scott Kingery. On the mound Nola’s development, coupled with the solidification of the bullpen thanks to Morgan, Hoby Milner, Luis Garcia and even Hector Neris, who’s seldom pretty but did reel off 20 consecutive saves.
Biggest Question Marks: The rotation
Between Eickhoff, Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter, Zach Eflin and Henderson Alvarez who steps up to join Nola in the rotation? Or can Klentak either deal for or sign for more effective pitchers than Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz? Where does Crawford, a defensive whiz but still a work in progress at the plate, play? Speaking of trades what can Joseph, Galvis, Hernandez, Rupp, even Franco—any of whom might be deemed expendable--bring back? And if Franco returns will the light go on under a new manager or will he continue to scuffle?
The off-season begins now for the Phillies, whose removal of Mackanin seems to be telling the baseball world they’re finally ready to compete. After the last few years of dread for Phillies’ fans March 29 (the season’s opener in Atlanta) can’t get here fast enough.