The pomp and circumstance — and Kyle Schwarber disappointing as the Phillies lone (participating) All-Star — of the mid-summer classic is now in the rearview and baseball is set to resume.
With 70 games left to play before the postseason, and a few weeks remaining until the trade deadline, the Phillies will be in a sprint to the finish and it is hard to remember a season with more interesting storylines swirling around.
Before the first pitch is tossed Friday to kick off a six-game homestand against the Cubs and then the Braves, here’s a look at 10 of the most compelling ones:
1. Ending the drought
The Phillies have not played in the playoffs since Ryan Howard tore his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. If the season ended today (it doesn’t) they’d slither in as the final playoff team and third Wild Card combatant in an expanded playoff field. Fans, frankly would take it. Making the playoffs is priority one this summer.
2. Can they handle the least of the East?
In order to do so, the Phillies will need to handle the games in their own division. Of their remaining 70 games, 40 of them are inter-division games. Of those 40, 20 are against the Nationals and Marlins, two bottom feeders in the NL East.
The Phillies have the 28th toughest strength of schedule remaining of 30 teams. They also have multiple series against the Cubs, Reds and Pirates remaining, all teams well under .500. If the Phils can beat bad teams, they’ll be playing in October.
3. When, how will the MVP return?
When Bryce Harper had to get surgery to his hand, the reigning NL MVP said he hoped to return in August. Is that still a possibility? According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, “Harper is seeing his surgeon next week with hopes the pins in his wrist came come out.”
It’s unclear if that means the pins will come out next week or he’ll make a plan to have them out next week, but at least there is progress being made. The right fielder also has his elbow injury to contend with, the one that relegated him to DH duties before he got hit by a pitch in the hand. Will he be able to take the field when he returns?
The Phillies will obviously take what they can get, and with the trade deadline looming the team has to think they’ll eventually be getting the biggest post-deadline addition in baseball when Harper makes it back to the lineup — whenever and in whatever capacity that may be.
4. Can the rotation keep it up?
Philadelphia’s 3.73 starting pitching ERA is the 10th best in baseball and their performances have been a bit top heavy. Aaron Nola entered the All-Star break (without an All-Star nod) with a 3.5 WAR (2nd in NL), a 3.13 ERA (15th), the best walk ratio and seventh-best strikeout ration in the league, the second-most innings pitched and the fourth-best WHIP.
Zack Wheeler isn’t far behind sporting a 2.89 ERA and 8-5 record. The Phillies have dealt with injuries and have had to use opening pitchers in bullpen games. Struggles from Kyle Gibson and Ranger Suarez further down the rotation have also made things difficult. The non aces, including a healthy returning Zach Eflin will be key as the season continues.
5. Can the bullpen too?
The bullpen’s ERA is 3.67 (12th best), which is relatively incredible when compared to the last two seasons that saw the Phillies saddled with one of the worst bullpens in baseball. They have also gotten better as the season has gone along, making it seem possible for the Phillies to focus on adding a starter and not relief help at the trade deadline.
Props to Seranthony Dominguez, Brad Hand, Andrew Bellatti and Corey Knebel for being anchors (most nights) out of the pen.
6. Will the young guys contribute?
Here’s a brief look at the hitting numbers for Phillies batters, younger than 26 years old, so far this season:
|Bryson Stott||24||.188/.255/.307 in 220 PA|
|Mickey Moniak||24||.130/.184/.152 in 50 PA|
|Matt Vierling||25||.231/.303/.343 in 152 PA|
|Alec Bohm||25||.276/.311/.388 in 338 PA|
One of those things is not like the others.
If we expand the definition of young player to include 26-year-old rookie Darick Hall — who has a .262 batting average and impressive .541 slugging percentage in 63 plate appearances, it gets a bit better. But the majority of the Phillies’ offensive production comes from guys 29 and older.
Look across the rest of the league and you see teams getting a lot more from players in their early to mid 20s (this trend covers pitching too, as 27-year-old Connor Brogdon is the youngest hurler with an ERA below 3.80.
The Braves have five starting lineup hitters aged 25 and younger (Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, William Contreras and Michael Harris). All of them are hitting over .244.
The Phillies will surely add some veterans via trade, and it’ll be because their homegrown youngsters are not pulling their own weight.
7. Will Kyle Schwarber challenge Ryan Howard?
Schwarber has 29 homers at the break. Howard’s team record was 58 dingers in 2006. Can he make a run at being the second player to ever hit 50 homers as a Phillie?
8. Will the Phillies be major players at the deadline?
We’ve hinted at the impending trade deadline throughout this article quite a bit, and it seems pretty reasonable that the Phillies will be in the market for a middle of the rotation starter and potentially some bullpen or outfield help.
They may not be players for Juan Soto (few will be), but outfielder Andrew Benintendi and starters like Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard and even Luis Castillo could be on the radar when the rumors start flying later thus month.
9. Can Nick Castellanos break out?
If he wasn’t being paid $100 million, and if Harper wasn’t sidelined due to various injuries, perhaps Castellanos’ modest but acceptable .251 average and eight homers would not be such a pressing issue for the Phillies. But he has not really stepped up as needed in the absence of Harper, and after hitting .300 with eight extra base hits during the month of April, the 30-year-old who has four 20-plus home runs seasons (including 34 last season) has been really bad.
In May through today, Castellanos is hitting .237 with only 20 extra base hits. He has one home run since the end of May. The big ticket recent signee needs to locate his swing soon.
10. Is Rob Thomson manager of the year?
The context of Thomson’s rise to manager of the Phillies has to factor into the race for manager of the year, right? Taking over for Joe Girardi, who was suddenly fired after a disappointing slow start, Thomson is 27-14 with a .659 win percentage — a rate that would be the third best in baseball over an entire season.
If he can end the Phillies postseason drought he has to get serious consideration, as he has somehow gotten the best (or at least better) out of a lot of proven veteran players who were not producing when Girardi was calling the shots.
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