What Does a Successful Second Half Look Like?
To say this season has not gone according to plan would be a huge understatement. We all remember the now-infamous prediction by Pete Mackanin that the Phillies could be a .500 team this year. Well through just over 50% of the season, they’ve got a .333 winning percentage. In order to finish the season at .500, the Phillies would have to win 52 of their final 75 games, and, well, that’s just not going to happen.
Some would say this was a lost season. The team obviously hasn’t won a lot, but more alarmingly, several presumed key pieces to the next Phillies playoff team have taken significant steps backward. Odubel Herrera has a 76 wRC+. Cesar Hernandez has been hurt. Tommy Joseph has been replacement level. Maikel Franco has been well below replacement level. Jerad Eickhoff has taken a step back. Vince Velasquez has been hurt. Hector Neris has taken a step back. The revolving door at the back of the rotation has been more like a Tilt-A-Whirl. But you knew all of that already.
I’m here to tell you that the storm clouds can pass. There are a few things that need to happen to salvage this so-far lost season and keep the rebuild going in an upward trajectory.
Trade Pat Neshek and Howie Kendrick for Something of Value
This one is obvious, and it has to happen within the next two weeks. Neshek has been one of the few bright spots on this roster, as he entered the All Star break with the fifth-lowest ERA among qualified relievers at 1.27, 70% better than the league average. His 7.20 K/BB ranks 8th in the Majors, and he just pitched a scoreless second inning in the All Star Game, as well as recording the final out in the preseason World Baseball Classic. Everything that could go right for Neshek this season has, and it’s time for the Phillies to cash in.
Kendrick may be a tougher sell, due to his injury, but he’s been every bit as good as Neshek. His 134 wRC+ is a career high, and he’s been worth one win in just 139 PAs. He should be back in the next week or two, and if he can pick up where he left off, the Phillies could get something for him, whether it’s at the non-waiver or waiver deadline.
Bounce-Back Performances from the Struggling Phillies
This is also obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Odubel Herrera is signed long term, and though his 1.1 fWAR still puts him on pace to be a league average player, he’s taken a step back in K%, BB%, O-Swing%, and Contact%. His fWAR is currently buoyed by a +11 UZR. He’s looked better out there, but with the unreliability of fielding metrics, I wouldn’t count on him continuing to be the best fielding center fielder in baseball.
Meanwhile, the pitching staff has already started to bounce back. Aaron Nola has been worth 1.1 fWAR in the past 30 days alone. Jerad Eickhoff had a very promising first start back from the disabled list on Sunday. Vince Velasquez should be back in the next few weeks, and Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, and Mark Leiter, while not exactly lighting the world on fire, have at least stabilized the back of the rotation over the past few weeks. This upward momentum needs to continue.
Cesar Hernandez needs to come back from injury and be a facsimile of the player he was last year. I’m beginning to lose hope for Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, and the cadre of mediocre catchers. If one of those three could re-establish themselves, it would take some pressure off the incoming Phillies prospects, which leads me to my next item:
The Phillies Prospects Need to Play
Despite Matt Klentak’s public comments about not promoting prospects till their ready, Nick Williams has already appeared for the Phillies and hit his first career home run on Sunday. Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery have been tearing up the minors, and while Jorge Alfaro and JP Crawford have struggled, they both need to get some Major League PAs this season. Dylan Cozens has 21 home runs for the Iron Pigs. I’m certainly no scout, but these guys need to get at least a cup of coffee this year. It would be good for their development.
That does raise the question of a middle infield log jam, though. Freddy Galvis is one Phillie who has played decent this year, and recently the organization was touting his leadership. Cesar Hernandez was hitting near league average before his injury, and Crawford and Kingery also play their positions. Perhaps Galvis or Crawford could move to third base? Neither is particularly well-known for his arm, but either would likely be an improvement on Franco, both defensively and offensively.
Meanwhile, the metrics love Cesar Hernandez’ defense at second over the past few years, and he passes the eye test as well, but Kingery has the tools to be a plus defender at second base as well as a good hitter. Perhaps the Phillies could install Kingery at second base for much of the time and move Hernandez around the diamond, as I suggested in the offseason. However the Phillies decide to play it, the young kids need to play.
Last, but not least, a few wins would be nice. If everything I outlined earlier in the piece comes to fruition, the wins will come. While they’re not a primary concern at the moment, it would be good for the team’s mindset to avoid 100 losses. In order to get there, they’d have to play something slightly worse than .500 ball the rest of the way. That may seem be impossible, but with a few good players returning from injury, and a little bounce back, a 63-99 record is achievable. All they have to do is play slightly better than their full season last year. That’s not impossible, right?