#Phillies have optioned RHP Luis Garcia to Lehigh Valley (AAA) and recalled LHP Adam Morgan. Morgan will start tonight vs Cleveland.
— Phillies (@Phillies) April 29, 2016
Yesterday marked the third time in Jonathan Papelbon‘s last 11 outings that his performance has resulted in the Phillies taking an ultimately insurmountable lead in dramatic fashion. It’s glorious and, as Papelbon’s former teammate freely admitted, it’s not only the fans who think so:
Is the win even better that it came against Papelbon?
"Absolutely," said Cameron Rupp.
— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) April 29, 2016
That the result of the game was a sweep of the division rival Nationals and an improvement to two games above .500 for the first time since 2012 is remarkably fun, but I’m not sure it holds a candle to the excitement generated by what Aaron Nola did yesterday.
With the Phillies win yesterday, the team is now 11-10 which you may have heard makes today the latest in the season the franchise has been over .500 since they were 15-14 on May 4th, 2014. It’s a moral victory worth celebrating if only because it means today is likely the last time I will ever look at the box score from that May 2014 game in which the starting third baseman was Jayson Nix and, really, nobody needs reminders of the Jayson Nix Era in Philadelphia. It got me wondering, however, how significant the Phillies’ 11-10 record is aside from, “Duh, Corinne, it’s April 28th, of course a win-loss record is not significant.”
Last year, the Phillies went 63-99 in the franchise’s worst season since the 1969 Phillies put up a 63-99 record of their own. It was an awful year of Phillies baseball even accounting for the somewhat positive turn of events in the second half with the emergence of Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, Aaron Altherr, and Jerad Eickhoff. Every 162 game season has 142 distinct 21-game stretches starting with Game #1-#21 and going all the way through to Game #142-#162. In an awful 2015 Phillies season, how many of their 142 21-game stretches were 11-10 or better?
Last year Cesar Hernandez had a breakout campaign of sorts. With Chase Utley injured and then traded, Hernandez received extended major league playing time for the first time in his career. Out of minor league options, it was a sink or swim opportunity for Hernandez who faced a certain DFA if he couldn’t cut it as a starter. Fortunately for him, he passed the test well enough posting a 91 wRC+, stealing 19 bags, and exhibiting passable defense which resulted in him continuing on as the Phillies starting second baseman for another year.
The season, however, has gotten off to an incredibly rocky start for Hernandez. He’s made multiple blatant blunders on the basepaths and at the start of play on Sunday, he was hitting .246/.295/.316 with a painfully low 62 wRC+. But lest anyone start freaking out about his early struggles, Hernandez proceeded to go 5-for-8 with a double over the next two games and raise his season stat line to a markedly more palatable .292/.333/.369 and 87 wRC+. You know we’re still in the heart of small sample size season when a player raises his wRC+ 25 points with two games and just one extra base hit.
Nothing about what Hernandez has done this season indicates that he suddenly became a worse player from last year to this year, but the problem with Hernandez has always been this: nothing indicates improvement either. Let’s quickly run down Cesar Hernandez’s profile:
Well, this stinks.
An MRI performed on Monday revealed that Morton tore his left hamstring on April 23 at MIL. Recovery time is expected to be 6 to 8 months.
— Phillies (@Phillies) April 27, 2016
Just 17.1 innings into his 2016 season, Phillies starting pitcher Charlie Morton fell to the ground running out a sacrifice bunt attempt and the diagnosis couldn’t have been much worse for him. Morton will undergo surgery next week and is not expected to return to the field this season. Season-ending injuries may be an inevitable part of the game, but they’re never not devastating. This marks the second time in his career that Morton will lose the majority of a season to an injury after Tommy John Surgery kept him off a major league mound from June 2012 until June 2013.
As today’s reminder that small sample size statistics and factoids should be served with a grain of salt the size of a boulder, I offer this: What do major league pitchers and the Atlanta Braves have in common? Both groups of players have hit three home runs this season. Don’t get me wrong, the Braves employ a lineup that makes the 2016 Phillies look like a semi-competent offensive force, but over the course of a full season it’s safe to say even they will be able to outslug pitchers.
With that caveat in mind, I’d like to present one of my current favorite leaderboards:
I have a theory that at the end of my life the baseball player I will have watched the most is Jimmy Rollins. From his debut in 2000 through his final season with the Phillies in 2014, Rollins played 2,090 games for the Phillies — 2,136 counting the postseason. The only other player in history to suit up for the Phillies that many times was Michael Jack Schmidt (2,404 regular season games and 36 postseason games.) With the rarity of players staying with one team for the majority of a long career, the unlikelihood that the frequency with which I watch one single team will dramatically increase in the future, and the fact that I was an active watcher of the Phillies for Rollins’ entire career, it’s logical enough to suppose that even though I’m still relatively young I’ll never spend as many hours watching any one player as I spent watching him.
The years upon years of getting to know players like Rollins, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, and Chase Utley steadily lulled Philles fans into a comfortable familiarity with the team. Each player has a public persona understood by Phillies fans, from the gregarious and confident Rollins to the stoic and intense Utley. As the Phillies undergo a dramatic transition from old to new, their fanbase is gradually learning about the new player personnel. Is it worth emotionally investing in these players? Which players will be in Philadelphia for an extended period of time? Will we know any of these players even half as well as we knew the last Phillies core? Do we want to?
In the top of the second inning during last night’s game, Tyler Goeddel led off with a single which brought Charlie Morton to the plate with a runner on first and nobody out. As you’d expect for a pitcher who is bad at hitting even by a pitcher’s standards, Morton squared around to bunt. He eventually got the bunt down, but it went right back to the mound allowing the pitcher to field the ball, pivot and get the lead runner out at second. While trying to beat out the double play throw, Morton fell to the ground with what was later announced to be a hamstring injury. Unsurprisingly, the Phillies announced this morning that Morton has been moved to the disabled list:
With yesterday’s win over the Brewers, the Phillies currently have a 9-9 record and .500 winning percentage. In an accomplishment that’s more an indictment of recent performance than actual current achievement, this marks the latest the Phillies have been at .500 since they were 12-12 on May 5th, 2014.
Yesterday’s win was fueled by the incredible performances of Odubel Herrera (3-for-4, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 HR, 2 SB) and Maikel Franco (3-for-5, HR, 4 RBI). Herrera is now leading the majors in walks with 17 and has a slash line with a correspondingly high on-base percentage: .283/.442/.433. With three home runs in the past two games, Franco has taken over the team lead in home runs at five and is sporting a thoroughly impressive slash line of his own: .299/.338/.552. Given that Herrera and Franco are the only two current Phillies position players with the potential to be key mainstays for the organization going forward, the two of them finding early success is obviously a welcome development.
The reason I’m writing up this brief post, however, is not because of their brilliant days at the plate, it’s because I wanted to be sure you had a place to appreciate that thing Maikel Franco did in the fifth inning. With a runner on second, no outs, Ryan Braun at the plate and Phillies reliever Andrew Bailey struggling in his season debut, Franco did this:
The Phillies have an expensive and bulky platoon situation at first base which is most generously described as functional. Darin Ruf and Ryan Howard are physically capable of standing at the position and taking at bats against opposite-handed pitching with moderate potential for success. So far, the results have been thoroughly unimpressive with the duo combining for a 65 wRC+ and hideous first base defense. But there is one other less prominent platoon on the roster and, so far, the results have been far more encouraging.