The second half is upon us! The Phillies are in a playoff race once again and baseball fever is sweeping the region!
Ok, maybe that isn’t totally true.
Somehow, some way, this team has stumbled into a position to grab one of the wild card spots available to three teams in the National League. If you had hopes and dreams of getting the division, well, I have some bad news for you.
Instead, let’s focus on the fact that once again, the team is primed to get a spot where they can still be playing meaningful baseball into October, baseball that they seem to be built for especially well. With all that being said, let’s make some predictions about what we believe will happen once play begins today.
Ethan Witte - They’ll make a trade with the Cardinals for a bat, but not the one you probably want the most
The Paul Goldschmidt trade rumors are going to start coming fast and furious. The Cardinals are not going to make the playoffs and to not at least entertain offers for the 2022 MVP would be malpractice. The Phillies seem like a logical choice to make a deal for Goldschmidt, but that isn’t one of the bats they should be looking at.
Bryce Harper is going to play the majority of time at first base, rendering Goldschmidt unnecessary as a trade target. His likely asking price is probably going to be out of their range as it is, so maybe the Phillies should be looking to poach one of the Cardinals’ glut of outfielders. Right now, they have Jordan Walker, Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, Alec Burleson and Tyler O’Neill (currently on the IL) as major league options in the grass. The Phillies would probably target one of the right-handed options, putting someone like O’Neill in their crosshairs depending on his health. Prying Walker away from them is probably going to be a nonstarter, so that’s pie in the sky thinking, but you never know.
Anthony Esbensen - Edmundo Sosa has a bounce-back second half.
Edmundo Sosa’s season has been a roller coaster, especially with his role. Towards the end of April, Sosa went from a platoon partner to a key contributor in the bottom of Rob Thomson’s order. However, with the highest chase rate in all of baseball, he was never going to sustain his .865 OPS in April.
From May 1 to June 35, Sosa has an OPS under .500 with 24 strikeouts to just one walk. Now with Darick Hall back in the picture and Bryce Harper solidifying the infield in late July, the right-handed infielder is back in his original role. Expect Sosa to tee off on more left-handed breaking balls like he did off Drew Smyly and Jesús Luzardo over the last two weeks.
Joe Edinger- Trea Turner will have a more Trea Turner-like second half.
It’s no secret that Turner has disappointed so far in his first season in red pinstripes. The Phillies big money shortstop is slashing .247/.299/.389 through 88 games. It’s by far the worst start to a season Turner’s had in his 8-year career. He’s on pace to set a new career high in strikeouts and is running an outside the zone swing percentage of 40%, well over his career average of 31%.
But Turner has begun to show signs of life. In 34 games since the start of June, Turner is slashing .266/.329/.427. To be clear, this is still not what the Phillies imagined when they signed him to an 11-year, $300M deal. But it’s worlds better than his line of .236/.280/.371 from the start of the season until the end of May. He’s still striking out around 24% of the time like he did early on, but his walk rate has jumped from 5.8% to 7.2%. He’s showing signs of being more selective even if he’s still chasing pitches at a high rate. Turner’s also starting to steal more bases, as he has 12 since June 1st in 34 games as opposed to just 7 in 54 games from March/April to Memorial Day. He has still yet to have been caught stealing.
If Turner can perform anything close to his career averages, especially against LHP where his .678 OPS is far below his career mark of .863, it would go a long way to improving a Phillies offense that has struggled to find any form of consistency or an identity.
Smarty Jones - Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are better, but Ranger Suarez and Taijuan Walker are worse
The Phillies rotation has been very good lately, but overall, in the first half, they’ve basically had a rotation full of #3 starters (or at least once Cristopher Sanchez stabilized the five spot)
That’s not awful, because #3 starters are valuable. They almost always keep the team in the game and deliver enough innings not to overwork the bullpen. But it would also be nice if we got more dominating outings, particularly from the two guys who are supposed to be the aces of the staff.
The team has been careful with Wheeler’s workload, and I think it pays off with a better second half performance. As for Nola, I think there will be some regression in the number of home runs he allows, and he’ll be far more consistent.
Unfortunately, that improvement will be countered by some drop off from both Ranger Suarez and Taijuan Walker. I’ve always been a bit down on Walker, and he has a history of poor second halves. As for Suarez, he seemed to wear down a little toward the end of the first half, and he had some shaky moments late in the 2022 season. I’m worried we might see a repeat of that.
Jared Frank- Harper will end up being capable at first
Harper’s pending (and temporary) move to first is the product of necessity. He’s never played the position. He hasn’t fielded a ball in game action, at any position, in quite some time. Nothing about the move would seem to inspire confidence.
But Harper himself inspires confidence. He’s a ferocious competitor who’s been denied the opportunity to exercise the full dimension of his abilities for more than a year. It would be unreasonable to suggest that his work ethic could transform him into a Gold Glove-caliber player at a position utterly alien to him, but competence (with a few forgivable hiccups and growing pains) is well within the realm of possibility. The first few games with Harper in the infield will be a curiosity. But I expect the sight of him manning first will become unremarkable soon enough. Given the circumstances, an unremarkable showing would be an accomplishment.
Mike Becker - Kyle Schwarber will return to form...offensively at least
Harper’s era as the stand-in first baseman has the domino effect of freeing up the DH spot in the lineup which, for most of the second half, will likely be manned by Kyle Schwarber. Schwarbs had a pretty mediocre first half overall, slashing .184/.313/.423 albeit while hitting 22 home runs and driving in 49 runs. However, overshadowing his struggles at the plate are his issues in the field. According to Fangraphs’ defensive ratings, he is dead last in all of baseball in terms of OAA (-15), RAA (-13), and Defense (-14.2) as well as fifth-worst by UZR (-4.4; Nick Castellanos is second-worst at -7).
Will pushing Schwarber into a full-time DH role make the team better on the whole? Almost certainly. Will it make him a better hitter? Who’s to say? His career average splits at DH are fairly similar his splits when starting in left field. What’s really important for Kyle across his career is that the calendar flips from July to August. While his domination of the month of June is well documented, July tends to be one of his worst months over the course of his career. Maybe it’s the All-Star break messing with his mojo, maybe it’s needing to recover from (typically) lighting the world on fire in June - whatever it is, Schwarber has slashed .215/.294/.466 in July as a major leaguer. Overall though, his career numbers tend to jump up after the Midsummer Classic:
First half splits: .217/.327/.475, .246 BABIP, 16.4 PA/HR
Second half splits: .250/.354/.523, .290 BABIP, 16.1 PA/HR
By replacing Schwarber in the field and allowing him to work his second-half magic at the dish, both the player and the team will be in much better shape for a playoff run.
Rich Haelig - Phillies will take the #1 Wild Card spot by winning 46 games in the second half including 20 in August
There are 16 teams in baseball that currently enjoy a winning record. Of the Phillies’ remaining 73 games, only 28 come against these opponents. 43/73 games will be played at CBP, including two home stands in August of 10 and 9 straight games (with only a three game road trip to Washington in between, one game of which will be in Williamsport for the Little League Classic).
If you thought June was good, just wait. Phillies will finish 94-68 and will host the…let’s say Diamondbacks in the Wild Card round.
Brian McQuilkin - Nick Castellanos: World Series MVP
See you in October, kids.