In the midst of all the angst that has surrounded the bullpen (sometimes rightfully so), there has been an awakening. One you might have missed had you blinked. It has happened right before our eyes, yet not many are talking about it. Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins are hot.
As August 14 dawned, the two hitters that occupy the top of the lineup were struggling. Their lines were not exactly what you’d call “prototypical” for the the batters that would get the most plate appearances in a game:
through Aug. 13:
McCutchen: 47 PA, .167/.234/.190, 2 R, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 1 XBH
Hoskins: 57 PA, .190/.404/.238, 9 R, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 XBH
The best part of either of these two production lines was the on-base percentage that Hoskins was putting up, contributing to an OPS that wasn’t as unsightly as what McCutchen was giving the team.
It was easy to gloss over the struggles of the two players since the team was also in the midst of having a bullpen produce cringe worthy appearances on an almost nightly basis. The team needed more out of the two players, especially as they began what could be considered the stretch run for the weird 2020 season. The issue was that there were no real options for the team to use in place of them. Jay Bruce could have patrolled left field for McCutchen to help there, but he was dealing with injuries of his own. Perhaps Alec Bohm could have been brought up earlier to help cover some of the at bats at first base, but as mentioned before, Hoskins was still getting on base at a good clip. Removing that ability to have someone in front of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto would have had a trickle down effect on the lineup and not one for the better. So instead, Joe Girardi stuck with his two veterans, assuming that each would right the ship and get themselves back on track. He has since been proven correct in waiting.
since Aug. 13:
McCutchen: 54 PA, .333/.370/.490, 9 R, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 4 XBH
Hoskins: 54 PA, .268/.444/.561, 12 R, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 6 XBH
The causes behind this turn around are probably many, but from the outside, it’s fair to think about health for McCutchen and timing for Hoskins. McCutchen was moving around gingerly in the field at time, appearing tentative on balls he had to come in for. It’s a testament to his sheer athletic prowess that he was still able to play left field at the high quality that he undoubtedly expected of himself and that fans expected of him.
Andrew McCutchen just made a tremendous running catch to end the top of the second inning. His problem in his return from his ACL hasn't been that he's never able to get into that top gear, but he doesn't seem to be consistently doing it. Looked great there.— Tim Kelly (@TimKellySports) August 15, 2020
Still, it seemed that he wasn’t quite trusting his surgically repaired left knee, the one that he tore only 14 months ago. It’s always important to remember that McCutchen has a major injury happen a little more than a year ago and that the recoveries are not linear for players. Perhaps it took him this long to get his legs underneath him at the plate, perhaps he too was only suffering from a timing standpoint. Whatever it was, he has been outstanding in these last two weeks. We saw last year how important McCutchen was to the lineup and we are beginning to see it again this year.
With Hoskins, it was almost definitely a matter of his getting his timing back. Looking at two different swings, one from 2017 and another from this year, you can see how out of whack he was.
2017 pic.twitter.com/z92QZZN31h— Ethan Witte (@ethan_witte) August 13, 2020
last night (not a side view though) pic.twitter.com/5Y1sWWfpO1— Ethan Witte (@ethan_witte) August 13, 2020
In 2017, you see a balanced, powerful swing. In 2020, you can see how out of whack he was. Whether this was a timing issue or a mechanical flaw, only Rhys or hitting coach Joe Dillon could tell you, but something has changed as he’s back to being more in balance with his swing. It has led to the results we have seen in the past two weeks.
Both of these players have been on fire lately, leading to an offense that has kept the team in most games. They’ll get shut down from time to time, as is the nature of baseball, but it certainly helps lengthen a lineup when they don’t have to rely on Harper and Realmuto to be the main sources of production. If McCutchen and Hoskins are able to continue this hot streak, the Phillies’ offense will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.