The MLB season is all wrapped up, which means we all spent Sunday evening watching our season predictions turn to ash in our hands and blow away in the autumn wind. Every year, we think we know who the Phillies are and, along with some unconsciously applied enthusiasm, we greet them in the form we believe they’ve taken through trades, signings, winter ball, spring training, rumors, and lies. Every year, they are something else, making us a little or a lot wrong about our assumptions, as fact or statistically-based as they may be.
Any Philadelphia sports fan will crawl out of your toilet and explain that they had seen all this coming; the devastating injuries, the walk-off losses, the underperforming offense and pitching, and visions of a mysterious apocalyptic desert that we can only assume in horror is a forewarning of humanity’s annihilation. But I am happy to admit that I was probably wrong about everything. Here, I will be characterizing that wrongness as “surprise.”
What surprised me
The Phillies were eliminated by the end of May
Not mathematically, but spiritually. Things picked up at the end there, and we’re not going to remember the first five months of this season as time buries them. But going into the year, the Phillies were being defined as not ready... but not awful. They were almost .500 in April! Michael Saunders was hitting a season high .244! Starters were barreling into the seventh inning, occasionally!
And then, May.
Six wins all month long, with four of them being by one run. The only thing between the Phillies and an even less watchable second month of the season were two Tommy Joseph singles, a Ty Kelly bloop, and a Blake Treinen appearance.
With a 17-34 record entering June, it was difficult to get jazzed enough to come down to the park for the Tastykake Maikel Franco Batting Gloves giveaway.
They did not lose 100 games/They went .500 in the second half
And so, after all that, that the Phillies will only be picking third in the MLB Draft is somewhat astounding.
It’s best to think of predictions less as etchings into stone and more as fluid, living, breathing, creations. This way, we can change them, and avoid being wrong. Entering the season, I believed the Phillies be an above-100-loss team. After the first two months, I thought they had lost over 100 times already. It was quite foreseeable that, in the season’s opening weeks, they would already be drooling over first draft pick selections; a sad commodity to treasure so early in the regular season.
They dipped below .500 on April 27 and never came back, but after the All-Star break, as everybody trickled in, the team finally got some good bounces; and smashes, and takes, and catches, and starts. We’ll always say it was the influx of youth finally arriving that did the trick, and it was, but the success also can be credited to Pete Mackanin, who set the tone in the locker room and, despite being at the end of his rope on a couple of occasions, never let things get so far out of hand that he lost control.
Also, luck. A lot more of baseball is about putting yourself in a position to get lucky than people like to admit.
Pete Mackanin was reassigned right out of the dugout
Even after an extension and the team’s second half, the Phillies have moved their manager into an advisory role; a move that seems to signal the next phase of the rebuild. Maybe not a surprise, but the timing and abruptness of the announcement caught some people off guard.
Michael Saunders struck out in a quarter of his ABs
You look forward to the unexpected successes on the roster. You forget that many of them will be the opposite of successes.
Michael Saunders was one of those, more so than most people would have guessed, if only because he had a successful half of a season and a thundering 2016 ALCS performance to which the Phillies had pinned $8 million.
Then he struck out 51 times in 200 AB and contributed -0.7 WAR, with his release at the end of June serving as one of the first moments of hopeful change for a team in desperate need of a spark; or at least, in need of not having Michael Saunders on it anymore.
From the wreckage of the rotation emerged a survivor
Aaron Nola’s success has been gratifying, and I gave a nice, restrained comparison of him to Steve Carlton last week following his second half performance. Not a lot came out of the Phillies’ rotation this season except for bad news, which itself was something of a surprise, but that Nola actually managed to turn things around was a life line to cling to.
Adam Morgan and Hoby Milner really pulled it together
On June 24, Hoby Milner made his 2017 debut in the wake of Jeanmar Gomez’s release. He threw 24 pitches and gave up an earned run in a 9-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. Arizona would go on to defeat the Phillies in five out of six games this season, so, welcome to the party, Hoby; but after that performance, Milner wouldn’t give up another run until a month later. After July 28, he wouldn’t earn anymore runs until September 17, and people couldn’t have been more excited.
New at Crashburn Alley: Hoby Milner and the Worst 20 Game Scoreless Streak Of the Past Decade https://t.co/gdha7j8xSS— Crashburn Alley (@CrashburnAlley) September 28, 2017
Back in the spring, Adam Morgan was just nameless fodder at the bottom of the roster to be clipped off for 40-man space. This is not the kind of pitcher you expect to allow two earned runs from August 2 to September 29. He gave up a three-run blast in his season finale, but cream cheese, it became impossible to deny the progress the southpaw made with a 96 mph heater and a slider that likes to snare around bats, even if he was filling the sort of mop-up/long relief/spot starter role that typically gets ignored.
The forgettable 27-year-old stashed in the back of a last place rotation is now a penciled-in 2018 bullpen piece; an unexpected gift from the baseball gods, who for once took pity on a man who, after his fifth demotion to the minors in the last two years, had toyed with the idea of retirement.
Jeremy Hellickson was traded this year, not last year
- Jeremy Hellickson after start No. 20, 2016: 3.84 ERA, 14 starts over 6.0 IP, 106 SO, 27 BB
- Jeremy Hellickson after start No. 20, 2017: 4.73 ERA, 10 starts over 6.0 IP, 59 SO, 30 BB
Despite the shine coming off 2016’s top trade chip, Matt Klentak flipped Hellickson to a non-playoff team for international bonus money and LHP prospect Garrett Cleavinger and hey, even Hyun Soo Kim. Weird.
The Phillies did not hit a walk-off home run this year
Not totally surprising for a team that scored 332 runs (second worst) and hit 89 home runs (fourth worst) before the All-Star Game, but slightly more surprising for the new-look, Rhys Hoskins-powered Phillies from August onward. But come on; even the worst teams can land a baseball on a bird that carries it over the fence once in a while.
Hoskins did his best, lofting a fly ball that could have walked them off against the Mets on Saturday night, but the wind got a hold of it and spat it back into play. The last time the Phillies managed to avoid the walk-off donger entirely was 1992.
We all know what happened the next season. Until then, guys.
Rhys Hoskins got here and was here and will be here
Called up on August 10, all there is to wonder about Hoskins at this point is what he’ll do with 162 big league games (instead of 165 between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia; 186 if you count his Dominican Winter League games).
Rhys Hoskins spotted Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco 111 games for the team lead in homers and is right on their heels. He's The Freeze. pic.twitter.com/zjvs5nTmAJ— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) September 15, 2017
Rhys Hoskins is on pace for 117 walks over 162 games -- Would be 2nd most ever for a rookie since 1901, behind only Aaron Judge this year— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) September 28, 2017
What did not surprise me
Larry Andersen to scale back radio broadcasts in 2018
Yeah. L.A. was already tapering back on coverage this season, as guest-casters Kevin Jordan, J.C. Romero, and Doug Glanville appeared on radio and TV throughout the year. Despite his months of lauded interplay with Scott Franzke, shouting instructions to the players from the press box, and fixing his chair during games, it became apparent that Andersen would rather be somewhere else than at Phillies games these days, and to be honest, for chunks of the season, who wouldn’t?
The difference was, we can turn the game off. Andersen didn’t have that luxury, so it’s no surprise to see him reach the conclusion that he’d be better off spending time with his family than watching 11 innings of a team making outs at a faster pace than 28 others.
Cameron Rupp is not the catcher of the future
And that’s okay. Not everybody can be. Look to your right and to your left. Unless you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, neither of those people will be the Phillies’ catcher of the future, either. While he was hitting .195 vs. RHP and and striking out in 34.4% of his PA, Rupp was also holding fundraisers for the ASPCA and addressing the fans on the final day of the season. Getting a chocolate lab adopted isn’t going to raise his OBP, however, and with Jorge Alfaro appearing on the horizon and advancing quickly, Rupp’s days on the lineup card are probably at an end.
Freddy Galvis played in all 162 games
He said he wanted to do it, the team said they wanted him to do it, and with his future with the Phillies ambiguous despite stellar defensive contributions, this seemed a fine reward for his service through six seasons of struggling, stumbling, and a shifting clubhouse. Hopefully, Freddy gets rewarded in other ways moving forward, even if it’s in other places.