For a while there, the 2017 season looked like it was going to be a complete and utter disaster.
Aaron Nola got off to a rocky start, then landed on the disabled list with a strained back. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez also suffered from injuries and ineffectiveness. The early-season schedule was brutal and the bullpen torpedoed a number of games with late-inning implosions and blown saves.
Odubel Herrera suffered through one of the worst slumps in recent memory and Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco were both mostly terrible (both ended the season as the worst first baseman and third baseman in terms of fWAR, by the way). Michael Saunders was a disastrous free agent signing and Howie Kendrick couldn’t stay on the field.
As a result, the team as a whole suffered through a May in which they went 6-22, a June in which they went 9-18, and they went 29-58 in the first half. Pat Neshek, a one-season rental certain to be traded at the deadline, was the team’s lone All-Star representative.
Not only that, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams struggled for the first few months of the AAA season. None of the young starters in Lehigh Valley were able to contribute in a positive way when called up. The rebuild looked like it had suffered a massive step backwards.
It was pretty damn depressing.
Fast-forward to the Phillies’ season-ending 11-0 pasting of the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. General manager Matt Klentak fired (or reassigned, whatever you want to call it) manager Pete Mackanin because he felt the rebuild had “turned a corner.” Crawford and Williams started to figure it out in the minors and played extremely well upon being promoted, Williams in July and Crawford in August. Jorge Alfaro was better than expected.
Aaron Nola emerged as a healthy, front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, one of the better arms in the National League. The bullpen straightened itself out, thanks to the contributions of homegrown players Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Victor Arano, and Hector Neris.
And of course, there was the emergence of Rhys Hoskins, a player that appears to have “superstar” written all over him. His homer binge upon being called up in August was simply incredible, and it’s likely his two-week slump at the end was the result of the rigors and fatigue of playing a long season (165 games plus the Futures Game) took its toll on the young first baseman.
The Phils ended their season 66-96, but finished things up with a 37-38 second half and a 15-13 September. That the franchise believes the timeline for contention may have actually been accelerated, given the issues in the first half, is simply incredible. It just goes to show that you never know how quickly things are going to turn around in baseball.
Sure, there is still a ton of work to do. The starting rotation needs a lot of work, the Phillies have some difficult decisions to make with the starting infield for next year, and the team needs a new manager.
But suddenly, crazily, there is legitimate hope and optimism that this team might actually be some degree of good in 2018, and there is no way anyone thought that would have been possible in late June.
On Episode 155 of The Felske Files, hosts John Stolnis and Justin Klugh recap the 2017 Phillies season, go inside the numbers of some of the team’s key players, and discuss the Phils’ upcoming managerial search. They also broke open the reader/listener mailbag for the last time in this 2017 season.
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