Last year, the Minnesota Twins lost 103 games, nine games more than any other team in baseball. One year, later, they are going to the playoffs, having won the second wild card spot in the American League.
Teams have gone worst-to-first before, but never has a team lost 100 games and then gone to the playoffs the following season. It was an incredible accomplishment for a team that used a red-hot offense, two decent starting pitchers, and a lot of luck, to reach the postseason tournament.
The Phillies aren’t going to lose 100 games this year. Taking two out of three games from the Washington Nationals earlier this week assured that. But they are likely to finish in last place, with one of the worst records in the league.
But the Phillies are just two games under .500 since the All-Star break. The offense is scoring a run per game more in the second half than they did in the first half. And so many of the young position players called up from AAA over the last two months have played really well.
The Phils also have one top-of-the-rotation arm in Aaron Nola. Yes, they need one or two more starters (perhaps Jerad Eickhoff returns to form in 2018) for the rotation, but the bullpen has also improved dramatically late in the season. Their 3.80 ERA is 5th-best in the NL, and in September, it’s 2.63, 3rd-best in the National League.
The Twins rode the hot bats of Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, and Joe Mauer during a red-hot two-month run that saw them go 20-10 in August and 33-21 since the Trade Deadline on August 1. And that was without their best hitter, Miguel Sano, in the lineup (although he’s expected to return from an injured leg in time for the AL wild card game).
The point is, the Twins rode a red-hot, young lineup to a playoff spot. They did it without a sterling rotation (only Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios are above average pitchers on that staff) and a dominant bullpen.
Why can’t the Phillies do that in 2018? Why can’t they ride a lineup featuring some combination of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro, Cesar Hernandez, Scott Kingery and Maikel Franco to a potential wild card spot? Why can’t they pair Nola with another good MLB starter like Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb or even Jake Arrieta? Why can’t their young bullpen, which has been so good late in the season, to the postseason?
Certainly nobody should expect the Phils to pull off what the Twins (and the Diamondbacks, too) did this season. Going worst-to-first is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of good fortune and improvement from virtually everyone on the roster. But the Phillies also have the financial flexibility and payroll space to add players to the big league roster this winter and next summer, should the team find their timeline has accelerated.
So, why not the Phillies? On Episode 153 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis talks to national baseball writer Danny Knobler of Bleacher Report about this topic, as well as the MLB postseason landscape and some season ending awards.
Also discussed... should we be worried about Rhys Hoskins’ slump? What are Hoskins and J.P. Crawford doing that is so impressive? And how is the race for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft shaping up?
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