From 2001-2012, the Philadelphia Phillies only produced one losing season. This stretch of baseball included the Phillies winning five consecutive National League East Titles, while also winning the World Series in 2008. But that era of Phillies baseball would die a slow death as the team’s former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. refused to trade aging players until they had lost most of their value as he was holding out hope of Philadelphia still being a contender. Amaro’s stubbornness would result in the Phillies finishing in the basement of the N.L. East in both 2014 and 2015. The Phillies struggles would result in Andy MacPhail being named as the team’s president of baseball operations in 2015 with one of his first orders of business being to give Amaro his walking papers.
Since then MacPhail has been hard at work rebuilding the Phillies from within as he’s focused on retooling the franchise’s minor league system. Each of the last three years saw the Phillies lose at least 90 games which didn’t leave that much hope for this year; however that is why they play the game.
Through 86 games the Phillies are 49-37 which is good enough for first place. And even if the Phillies are unable to win the division this year, they are currently in position to secure of the wild card spots in the N.L. if the Major League Baseball season were to end today.
The Phillies are a team which is constructed of young and talented players as well as some key veterans who were picked up in free agency, while they’re led by a young manager who is obsessed with sabermetrics. And when you put it altogether, you’ve got a motley crew that has brought excitement back to Citizens Bank Park in Philly.
In 2008, outfielder Odubel Herrera was signed as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 out of his native Venezuela. After six years in the minor league system of the Texas Rangers, Herrera was selected in the Rule 5 Draft by the Phillies in 2014. Since then Herrera has been the starting center fielder for the Phillies, and his potential has been on display which included him being selected to his first All-Star Game in 2015. Herrera is a slick fielding center fielder with tremendous range, but it is coming altogether in 2018 as he’s in the midst of having a career year. This season Herrera is batting .280 to go along with 15 home runs and 51 runs batted in. However Herrera is not the only youngster in the Phillies lineup who has been vital to the team’s success.
In 2014, outfielder Rhys Hoskins was a fifth-round selection by the Phillies. Hoskins would make his Major League debut with Philadelphia last year, and in just 50 games, he belted 18 homers, while also driving in 48 runs. Hoskins would finish fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in spite of the fact that he only played roughly 33% of the season. This year Hoskins has picked up right where he left off from as he has already matched his runs batted in total from last season, while he has already gone yard 14 times. Hoskins is doing this in spite of the fact that he suffered a fractured jaw earlier this season while he was batting against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Surprisingly Hoskins didn’t miss too much time as that toughness will always endear him to the hard nosed fan base in Philadelphia.
In 2014, starting pitcher Aaron Nola was the Phillies first-round selection. By 2015, Nola was ready for his debut with the Phillies as in 13 starts he would go 6-2 with an earned run average of 3.59. Since then Nola has had his fair share of ups and downs like most young pitchers experience, but here in 2018, it appears to be coming together for him. This year Nola is 11-2 with an earned run average of 2.41. Nola’s 11 wins are tied for the lead in the National League, while he is also on pace to throw 200 innings for the first time in his career.
Nola’s emergence this year can also be attributed to the Phillies acquiring starting pitcher Jake Arrieta during the off-season. Three years ago Arrieta was one of Major League Baseball’s most dominating pitchers. In 2015, Arrieta went 22-6 with an earned run average of 1.77 en route to being named as the National League’s Cy Young Award winner as a member of the Chicago Cubs. But as Arrieta’s earned run average increased over the last two years, the love affair between him and the Cubs began to fade in spite of the fact that he helped the franchise win the World Series in 2016. Arrieta became a free agent following the 2017 season, and after playing the waiting game throughout the winter, he and the Phillies came to an agreement on a three-year deal for $75 million this past March.
Arrieta has not been lights out for the Phillies which is evident by his 6-6 mark with an earned run average of 3.47. But as previously mentioned, Arrieta’s ability to mentor younger pitchers such as Nola has been important for what Philadelphia has been able to accomplish so far in 2018.
First baseman Carlos Santana was another key addition for the Phillies this past off-season as after spending the first eight years of his Major League Baseball career with the Cleveland Indians, he joined the Phillies on a three-year deal for $60 million. Santana has never been an All-Star caliber player, but what he provides Philadelphia with is a solid power hitter who consistently hits 25 homers per season, while he can be a mentor for youngsters such as Hoskins the lineup.
After enjoying a 13-year playing career in professional which included a stint in Japan as well as winning a World Series Title with the Boston Red Sox in 2004, Gabe Kapler is getting his shot in Major League Baseball as a manager. Kapler is only 42-years of age, and his youth, as well as his focus on physical fitness and sabermetrics caught the eye of MacPhail which led to him becoming the team’s manager. Things didn’t get started on the right foot for Kapler in Philadelphia as the Phillies began 2018 with a record of 1-4 which included the new skipper being criticized for mismanaging removing after just 68 pitches during the middle of the sixth inning versus the Atlanta Braves in the regular season opener. At that point Nola had only surrendered one run, while the Phillies were cruising. However Phillies would lose their momentum and fall to the Braves 8-5.
But Kapler owned up to his mistake, while learning from it. And in Kapler’s rookie campaign, he is pushing all of the right buttons for a Phillies team that is playing with house money.
The biggest thing for the Phillies this year is that after beginning the season playing with house money, there is real belief within this organization that they can win the National League East. The Phillies are only 15-17 versus the N.L. East this season, but they are 6-4 against the Washington Nationals who in spite of hovering around .500, are still the squad that most people expect to win the division. And since there is plenty of basketball still to be played, the Phillies will have all of the opportunities to improve their overall record in the decision.
MacPhail knows how to build a winner which is evident by the pair of World Series Titles that he was able to win as the general manager of the Minnesota Twins. MacPhail has turned things around in Philadelphia by being patient and understanding that the turnaround wasn’t going to come overnight. And with a wide open National League this year, if the Phillies are able to make it to October, anything can happen.