The unofficial first half of the season is now in the books and the Phillies find themselves in a familiar position: looking up at the Braves while in the thick of a wild card race. It was an inconsistent, at best, first half for the team, so one might even say they are fortunate to be where they are at at the moment. After all, the teams they are currently behind - Miami, Arizona, San Francisco - are all teams no really expected to be where they are while teams behind them - New York, San Diego - have made things a little easier by falling flat on their face.
To get to this somewhat disappointing point for the Phillies has been a group effort. The many, many millions they have sunk into the offense has given them a collective 99 wRC+, good for a tie for 17th in baseball. Not exactly the thing you’d have thought with a roster that has as many All-Stars as they currently have. The starting pitching, not without its own rough patches, has recently rounded into form, giving them solid performances throughout the month of June to vault them back into the playoff picture. Their 93 ERA- is tied for tenth best in baseball, a solid number considering one of their starters can’t get out of his own way. The bullpen has performed pretty much as advertised, their unit’s 88 ERA- tied for sixth. Injuries have gotten in the way a bit, several relievers spending significant time on the injured list, but an unexpected boost from an All-Star has been a boon.
So, now seems as good a time as any to give out some grades and hand out hardware for the team’s first half performances. Rather than go through and use the standard “A through F” system so many of us have become accustomed to, we’ll use a much simpler form: pass/fail. After all, what’s really the difference between an A- and a B+? Then, we’ll give some MVP awards, as well as some Steve Jeltz awards (the “Disappointment of the Half” award). Without further ado, here are some grades:
Hitting first half grades
|J.T. Realmuto||Garrett Stubbs||Drew Ellis|
|Alec Bohm||Josh Harrison||Dalton Guthrie|
|Bryson Stott||Jake Cave||Darick Hall|
|Kyle Schwarber||Edmundo Sosa||Bryce Harper|
|Brandon Marsh||Trea Turner|
Let’s talk about some things. First of all, it could be argued that almost everyone in the regular lineup could be given a failing grade for this first half of the season. That argument would likely be based solely on the weight of expectations this team had coming into the season thanks to their World Series run and their past examples of offensive output. That’s a fair argument to make, one with a certain amount of validity.
My counter argument, weak as it might seem to a few, is to guess: how many of the team’s eight regulars have a wRC+ above 100?
Would you have guessed six of them? All but Kyle Schwarber (98 wRC+) and Trea Turner (84 wRC+) are at least above 100. Are there some who are just a touch over? Sure, but over 100, whether it be by a point or a hundred points, is still above average.
Now, therein lies the issue. No one outside of Castellanos (124) is really blowing away the 100 mark. They’re just kind of hovering around it all season long. That is what has been so frustrating about watching the offense is that we haven’t seen anyone on it really take off this season and post numbers 25, 30, 35 points over a 100 wRC+. For this team to make a serious run at the playoffs and leapfrog the other teams in front of them, as well as ward off the lurkers behind them, they’re going to need someone to step up and have a hot second half.
First half pitching grades
|Zack Wheeler||Aaron Nola||Eric Uelman|
|Taijuan Walker||Bailey Falter||McKinley Moore|
|Ranger Suarez||Connor Brogdon||Luis Ortiz|
|Cristopher Sanchez||Dylan Covey|
|Craig Kimbrel||Andrew Bellatti|
|Matt Strahm||Seranthony Dominguez|
|Jose Alvarado||Yunior Marte|
Offensive MVP: Nick Castellanos
The most consistent offensive player is the easy choice here. There are arguments to made for Brandon Marsh, Bryson Stott and Alec Bohm, but when you’re talking about the entirety of the first half, Castellanos is the pick.
Pitching MVP: Craig Kimbrel
I really wanted to pick someone else here, not having a member of the bullpen as the choice, but then I began to ponder.
This team is built for October - hitting home runs, good starting pitching and a dominant bullpen with multiple high octane arms. The starting pitching hasn’t been consistent enough just yet, though Ranger Suarez and Zack Wheeler have turned it around. When considering the bullpen, the team has three left-handed pitchers in Jose Alvarado, Gregory Soto and Matt Strahm that one would feel relatively comfortable with in tight situations. With the right-handers, there has been a bit more fluctuation. Sernathony Dominguez hasn’t looked himself this year and is currently injured. The other choices haven’t stepped up as of yet, leaving Kimbrel. If you take away his Opening Day debacle and two appearances against the Dodgers, Kimbrel has an ERA of 1.26. Those two appearances against the Dodgers came at the beginning of May, right before Kimbrel saw an uptick on his velocity that has truly turned his season around.
He’s been a lockdown closer the team needed, allowing Thomson to deploy Alvarado, Soto and Dominguez in more high leverage situations. It’s been a solid recipe that has helped the team get back on track.
The Offensive Jeltz: Trea Turner
It’s really baffling how bad Turner has been this year. Sure, he’s been better of late, but the price of having a $300 million deal precede your season means more production is expected. We know that one cannot judge a player’s effectiveness over the length of the contract in a few months, but to say Turner has been disappointing would be an understatement.
The Pitching Jeltz: Aaron Nola
Jekyll and Hyde.
Night and day.
Yin and yang.
Take your choice of polar opposites and you have what Nola has given the team this year. There have been some starts that have been very good, but they seem to alternate with starts that are not good at all. This coming in a platform year has to be particularly frustrating for Nola, though it likely doesn’t damage his ability to get a lucrative deal, but it should at least pause teams before they make that initial offer.
There really shouldn’t be much reason to expect Nola to simply turn it around this far into the season. Expectations should reasonably be set at the fact that he’ll give the team some good starts, but will mix in some stinkers in between. That way, no one gets hurt!
Probably the most frustrating part is that Nola can very easily turn back into that pitcher we’ve seen in the past, the one where he looks very much like an Ace.
And there have been glimpses of it!
Out of his 19 starts this year, there have only been three where he hasn’t gone at least six innings. Three starts, he has struck out ten or more. His start against the Rays showed how good he can be; his follow-up against the Marlins exacerbate the frustrations. There is some faith he can turn it around, but that faith is dwindling.
There is a lot of room for debate here. As I mentioned, there are some players that might be more deserving of the first half MVP. Maybe someone should be a failing grade rather than a passing one. Overall, the team probably deserves a passing grade. They’re still in the playoff hunt. They haven’t faceplanted in the way that the Padres or Mets have. The Braves have been a juggernaut this year, effectively ending the division race, so the fact that the Phillies aren’t really in the hunt to win the division shouldn’t be an issue. The passing grade is probably just barely one, but still should be one.
Once the second half dawns, the team really does need to kick it into gear a notch. The offense needs to be more consistent, the superstars needing to start to play to their track record if they want to overtake teams in front of them. The pitching has been the strongest part of the team, so as long as no one craters in the second half, they should be fine. It’ll be interesting, of course, and the trade deadline could change things depending on the direction they go.
But as we’ve seen, there is room for improvement. That improvement just needs to happen.