It was a stretch of games that would make even the best teams look human, a 10-game stretch against three legit playoff contenders — the Padres, Braves and Cardinals — a litmus test for a Phillies team that has struggled to move much beyond the .500 mark at any point in the last three years.
Along the way, the reigning National League MVP, Bryce Harper, broke his thumb, likely keeping him out of action for at least the next six weeks. And yet, somehow, the Phils managed to go 6-4 in that 10-game meat grinder, winning three out of four in San Diego, losing two of three to red-hot Atlanta, and winning two of three against a solid St. Louis team at Citizens Bank Park.
As the Phillies prepare to welcome the 29-53, last place Washington Nationals to Philadelphia for a three-game set this week, they sit just one game out of the wild card race, breathing down the Cardinals’ necks. They get those Cardinals again this weekend in a four-game, wrap-around series that concludes next Monday.
Even with the loss of Harper, the Phillies are still in the thick of the playoff race, which means team president Dave Dombrowski will likely be adding pieces to his roster as the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches. Despite their 42-38 record, the Phils have a number of areas that could use reinforcements.
Harper’s injury seems to leave a need for another outfielder or a big bat, preferably one who can ably man center field. Starting pitchers Zach Eflin and Ranger Suarez are both hurt and will be out for at least the next couple weeks. And while the bullpen has been stellar of late (1.69 ERA over the last 14 days, 4th-best in MLB), adding relievers at the deadline is always a good idea. And let’s not forget the infield, where the Phils have generally struggled to find offensive consistency since Jean Segura’s injury last month.
Based on internal options and what may be available on the trade market, here’s how I would rank the Phils’ needs over the next month.
We just don’t know what to expect from Eflin going forward. The free agent-to-be right-hander has had multiple surgeries on both knees and is dealing with a knee bruise that is preventing him from pushing off properly. But even when healthy, Eflin has been, at best, a No. 4 starter (4.37 ERA in 13 starts). That’s not a terrible thing, especially given how great Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola have been. But the Phillies lack a clear No. 3 after their two aces, with Kyle Gibson (4.91 ERA) and Suarez (4.33 ERA), failing to provide consistency from start to start.
Not only that, the minor league options to replace them do not inspire confidence. Bailey Falter has made four starts for the Phils this year and here is how each of them went.
- @ Seattle: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
- @ NYM: 3.0 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
- @ Washington: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
- vs. St. Louis: 4.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
They haven’t been disasters, but only once did he last five innings. Cristopher Sanchez has seen limited time with the Phils this year (one start, seven relief appearances) and has a 4.60 ERA, 3.52 FIP in 15.2 innings.
In the heat of a pennant race, you’d like to have at least one additional reliable starter in the fold. Oakland’s Frankie Montas and Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo are the highest profile guys who could be moved, both are top-of-the-rotation arms who would cost a bundle in terms of prospects. Miami’s Pablo Lopez would be a multi-year option, under team control through 2024, and a couple left-handers in Texas’ Martin Perez and Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner could be decent middle-of-the-rotation options. Chicago’s Kyle Hendricks and Cincy’s Tyler Mahle are also prime candidates to be moved.
The ‘pen suddenly doesn’t feel as big a need since Corey Knebel was removed from the closer’s role. Over the last 14 days, their 1.69 ERA is 4th-lowest in MLB. The big key has been a reduction in walks, averaging just 1.93 per nine innings over that stretch. Their season-long number is 4.30. Seranthony Dominguez has been tapped as the team’s highest leverage reliever, which sometimes means closer, however, the Phillies should certainly be looking to add another arm or two, preferably a left-hander.
The Phillies could look to one of Drombrowski’s previous teams, the Tigers, who have the 3rd-best bullpen ERA (3.10) in baseball. Michael Fulmer (2.10 ERA), Wily Peralta (2.40 ERA), and left-hander Andrew Chafin (2.66 ERA) have all been outstanding. Baltimore closer Jorge Lopez is having a career year (1.98 ERA, 13 saves), with Felix Bautista, Dillon Tate, and a multitude of others powering a ‘pen that has the 4th-best ERA in MLB (3.21). But it’s Pittsburgh’s hard-throwing David Bednar who would be my choice, with a 2.43 ERA and 12 saves for a going nowhere Pirates team. He isn’t arbitration eligible until 2024, so expect the Pirates to ask for a king’s ransom for him.
With Harper out until mid-August at the earliest, the Phils could use another outfielder. Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos will continue to play every day, with one or the other likely getting some time at DH. Matt Vierling is the in-house candidate who has been the most productive, able to play center field as well as left and right. Odubel Herrera is doing just enough to keep his roster spot, and Mickey Moniak has yet to show he can hit big league pitching.
The Phillies can’t, and shouldn’t, be looking for a big-money option that they’ll have to bench once Harper returns to the DH spot full-time, but there is help out there.
Chicago’s Ian Happ can play multiple positions and has a 133 wRC+ with 8 HRs, 37 RBIs and 35 runs scored this year. Kansas City’s Andrew Benintendi has a 126 wRC+ with 30 runs and 31 RBIs with a .380 OBP that would look awfully nice atop the lineup. Baltimore’s Anthony Santander has 15 HRs, 40 RBIs and a 114 wRC+, although he’s not a good defender and is hitting just .235. David Peralta, Michael A. Taylor, Tommy Pham, and Mitch Haniger are among others who could be obtained at minimal cost.
There are two different ways to go here. The first is to get a DH-type first baseman who can provide immediate pop to replace Harper’s bat. Darick Hall’s introduction to the big leagues has been fun and, hey, who knows, maybe we have another Ryan Howard on our hands. Failing that, Washington’s Josh Bell (151 wRC+, 12 HRs, 47 RBIs) makes some sense, although it’s hard to see who hits the bench once Harper comes back.
Didi Gregorius continues to deal with aging issues, now a balky knee that has sapped him of all his power (still 0 HRs for Gregorius this season). The Reds’ Brandon Drury is having a career year (133 wRC+, 17 HRs, 49 RBIs), and would handle second or third for the Phils. He’d be an upgrade over Alec Bohm, whose slash line of .265/.298/.362 makes him one of the least effective third basemen in the league. The White Sox’ Josh Harrison is versatile and has playoff experience, with Joey Wendle of the Marlins, the Rockies’ Jose Iglesias, and the Royals’ outstanding glove man Nicky Lopez providing some options in the middle of the diamond.
Dave Dombrowski may not be able to fill all these needs, and if I had to choose, this is how I’d attack them. There are a number of sellers with decent options, many of whom won’t cost any of the Phils’ top pitching prospects. The Phillies are clearly playoff contenders and can give themselves a better shot at staying in the mix if they make some deals sooner rather than later.