As Pete Mackanin fielded questions in his office after Sunday’s series sweep at the hands of the Cardinals, the Phillies manager seemed understandably subdued by the intense heat and severe beating. He didn’t like a pitch Aaron Nola had thrown Dexter Fowler. He did like that Odubel Herrera had three more hits. Not even the Phillies breaking a fifteen-inning scoreless streak was enough to lighten the mood.
One could forgive him, then, for forgetting the name of one of his best hitters.
MACKANIN: It was good to see... uh... what’s his name.
MACKANIN: Nava hit the home run.
Not many of the good players are hitting. And not many of the players are good.
But Daniel Nava has proven to be one of the most effective hitters in the Phillies’ lineup this season, and certainly the most valuable bat off the bench. That Michael Saunders is out there earning $9 million and hitting .210, which honestly seems high, only makes Nava’s $1,350,000 deal seem even more lucrative. In every game in which he’s had more than one at-bat, he has at least one hit. Except for two. And he drew a walk in both of them.
So it’s about time we saw a little bit more of this 34-year-old, career .264-hitter! Right, gang?
I said, right, gang?!
This is literally one of the most depressing headlines I've ever read. https://t.co/3IBAjMXPZY— John Stolnis (@FelskeFiles) June 12, 2017
Yeah! All right!
It’s time to tap into that .333/.462/.429 slash line at Citizens Bank Park! Let’s turn that .294 BA and 6 RBI with RISP loose! Daniel Nava is hitting .316 when he comes to the plate with two outs! When’s the last time you saw a Phillies hitter stroll up there with an inning almost over - a rally almost entirely wasted - and done anything more effective than look at a bird?He’s easily the team’s most clutch hitter, too, with a .286 BA and .713 OPS when batting in tied or one-run games in the seventh inning or later, and a .385 BA when hitting with the game tied. He’s not exactly racking up the XBH’s in those instances, but he doesn’t have to. Stroke a liner into right center, squeak a ground ball past the infield - for god’s sake, just get it into the outfield once in a while, and you’ll be an offensive leader on this club.
It would be in the Phillies’ best interest to be inserting Nava into more situations. Obviously, there is a level of shame in Saunders’ deal, and no one wants to sit a guy who is making that much money, but that was part of what made Saunders' deal not thrilling, but appealing in the first place: That he was a not an overly expensive addition to the middle of the order who, in theory, could produce some runs. He’d done it for half a season once. That’s all the Phillies would really need from him, and had he done so, he’d have been swapped out after becoming too prolific a hitter.
Of course, that’s the opposite problem than the one the team is having. But it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that Saunders’ futility at the plate has outweighed his salary. No one wants to watch anymore Michael Saunders ABs. And no one is going to be losing their minds when Dan Baker calls Nava’s name. But even a casual glance at the numbers will tell you that, my god, at least one guy on this roster creates the possibility of someone reaching second base. And his name isn't Michael Saunders.
Look, I get it. Calling Nava an offensive "spark" is extremely demoralizing. At no point prior to the 2017 season did we perceive that the team’s igniter switch would be in his mid-thirties and also not from the Phillies’ own farm system and also not named Maikel Franco. But here we are. And perhaps Nava’s success could translate into a "trade chip" status...? If we’re lucky? It's June, okay? There's a lot of baseball left. This is about survival.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, what’s clear is that Nava’s extra work in the cage has paid off, and Pete Mackanin should be finding a place for anyone who can put the bat on the ball in his lineup.