“Many Peanuts” – A Philadelphia Phillies preview

Homer: Twenty dollars? I wanted a peanut!

Brain: Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts.

Homer: Explain how!

Brain: Money can be exchanged for goods and services.

Homer: …Woohoo!

Entering 2019, the Philadelphia Phillies were in the midst of a seven-season malaise. The 2011 team had won 102 games on the strength of the incredible starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Vance Worley (hey, he had a 3.01 ERA that year). They were prematurely bounced from the playoffs in the NLDS at the hands of the future champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. The teams since then have been a mix of pathetic and promising, but they all have one thing in common: they’ve never been above .500.

Philadelphia finished at a somewhat encouraging 80-82 last season, and as a result, team president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak felt prepared to strike. The doldrums officially ended this winter when the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13 year, $330 million contract. Harper’s been a good player for the Phillies, even if his insane 2015 is looking more and more like a flash in the pan. Regardless of whether his performance-to-date is considered a disappointment or simply meeting expectations, the move injected life into the fan base and helped to make Philadelphia a legitimate contender heading into 2019.

So far this year, the Phillies’ efforts to make good on their preseason spending binge have been mixed. They’re right in the thick of the National League wild card race, but so are a lot of teams, thanks to the senior circuit’s considerable balance. Furthermore, their run differential suggests that Philadelphia should be several games under .500 rather than six games over it. There’s been plenty that’s gone wrong in the City of Brotherly Love to obstruct the dream of punching a ticket to the postseason once again. Offseason acquisition Andrew McCutchen was off to an excellent start before tearing his ACL. Center fielder Odubel Herrera was having a dreadful season before getting slapped with a domestic violence suspension, and by all accounts, it’s looking like addition by subtraction.

Many of the Phillies’ problems have involved their starting rotation. 2018 ace Aaron Nola has been merely average in 2019, as the heavy curveballer’s whiff rates are down on all four of his pitchers. Jake Arrieta‘s slider and curve have dramatically decreased in effectiveness since last season. The 33-year-old has been able to compensate somewhat with a good changeup, but he’s starting to look like a shell of his former self. Vince Velazquez continues to be a frustrating combination of swing-and-miss stuff with close-your-eyes-and-fling-it command. Drew Smyly had massive control problems in Texas this season, but he’s been brilliant in two starts since coming to Philadelphia (though it was only the Pirates and Giants). The Phillies were desperate enough for starter help that bringing in Jason Vargas seemed like a good idea; Mickey Callaway’s best buddy is a soft-tossing lefty who manages to survive by using his changeup often and effectively.

The Phillies have fared far better at scoring runs than preventing them. First baseman Rhys Hoskins anchors the lineup, and while he doesn’t hit for a high average, he leads the National League in walks and has already racked up close to 50 extra-base hits on the season. Scott Kingery has been the benefactor of a bunch of playing time opening up in the Phillies’ outfield, and the 25-year-old has acquitted himself well. He appeared powerless in 2018 (immediately after Philadelphia handed him a long-term deal before he’d even made his major league debut), but 13 bombs in what equates to roughly a half-season’s worth of playing time are welcome from center field.

The Phillies acquired catcher J.T. Realmuto as part of their major offseason load-up, and while his performance at the plate has been lackluster, Realmuto’s made up for it with excellent defense behind it. He’s been an underappreciated star this season, as his framing, blocking, and throwing, have all been excellent. With Jay Bruce on the shelf, the Phillies have used 23-year-old rookie Adam Haseley in left field. While Haseley has some power, he’s only drawn one walk in 64 plate appearances. Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco are two of the longest-tenured Phillies; the former gets on base enough to be a respectable second baseman, and the latter is an OBP sieve and replacement-level sinkhole that represents the main weakness in the Phillies’ everyday lineup.

***

In a time when so many teams were content to sit on their hands and refuse to upgrade their rosters, the Philadelphia Phillies deserve credit for the very aggressive moves they’ve made this winter. Many teams have felt the risk-reward tradeoff of using their money and resources to pursue bold upgrades isn’t worth it, and it’s commendable to see a team like this bucking the trend.

Unfortunately, there’s a very real chance that Philadelphia’s 2019 will ultimately just look like an unfortunate data point for the counterargument to their own strategy. As things stand, they have little-to-no chance of winning their own division and are one of the least qualified teams in a field of many currently pushing for the right to flip a coin to make it to the NLDS. The Phillies might well make it, but if their rest-of-season performance resembles their run differential more than their current win-loss record, it’ll just be one more reason for the current environment of anti-competitiveness to perpetuate itself.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Probable Lineup

  1. Cesar Hernandez – 2B
  2. Jean Segura – SS
  3. Rhys Hoskins – 1B
  4. Bryce Harper – RF
  5. J.T. Realmuto – C
  6. Scott Kingery – CF
  7. Adam Haseley – LF
  8. Maikel Franco – 3B

Pitching

  • SP1: Aaron Nola – RHP
  • SP2: Jake Arrieta – RHP
  • SP3: Vince Velazquez – RHP
  • SP4: Drew Smyly – LHP
  • SP5: Jason Vargas – LHP
  • CL: Hector Neris – RHP
  • RP1: Adam Morgan – LHP
  • RP2: Jose Alvarez – LHP
  • RP3: Juan Nicasio – RHP
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Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
Articles: 86
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Trooper Galactus

Nothing like a slumping White Sox team to help the Phillies in their playoff push. Like the Padres, Reds, and Brewers, a team I feel I can root for because they put competing as a priority over all other considerations.

mikeyb

I wish the White Sox could have a disappointing season for a core piece look like Aaron Nola’s 2019 season.

itaita

Over/Under 5.5 runs total for the series.

Normally id think over but “soft tossing lefty” and “White Sox” have been a recipe for disaster the last 10 years. I guess they go 2, 1, 2.