Phillies

Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Peter Bourjos has never really been known for his hitting.

It's always been his fielding that has set him apart, as he’s been considered one of the best defensive centerfielders in MLB. While he’s played mostly right field for the Phillies, his fielding has remained top notch.

Yet, that’s not what has gotten him recent praise. His hitting has finally come alive, helping to fuel a recent four-game win streak.

Bourjos was batting a measly .199 coming into the month of June, but then his performance completely changed. He hit .410 (25 for 61) in June, which was the second-highest average in the majors and first in the National League. He’s pushed his season batting average up to .262, recording at least one hit in his last 10 games.

At home on Friday against the defending champion Kansas City Royals, Bourjos stretched his hit streak to double digits with a single in the bottom of the fifth. He scored on the next at-bat when Cody Asche drove him in on an RBI double to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. The Phillies went on to an eventual 4-3 win at Citizens Bank Park (see game recap).

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the difference in Bourjos' hitting was to just not swing the bat so hard.

“According to what I read, he just decided that he didn’t have to swing as hard, which makes a lot of sense,” Mackanin said. “It takes a lot of tension out of your body. You just go out there and react to the ball instead of trying to drive the ball.”

Mackanin mentioned how Pete Rose, who holds the record for most hits in MLB history, didn’t worry about trying to hit a home run each time, which resulted in a lot of groundball hits. He added that so few of a player’s at-bats are going to result in extra-base-hits, so just focusing on getting on base is most important.

Even though Bourjos' defense is what sets him apart, this isn’t the first time in his career he’s found himself hitting the ball well. In 2011 with the Angels, Bourjos hit .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples and 12 home runs in 147 games. Mackanin said he’s definitely capable of replicating those numbers.

“You see when he takes batting practice he has power,” Mackanin said. “I think what happened to him over the years was he never really knew what kind of hitter he was. He has the power to hit a home run to the opposite field. He can hit 15, 20 home runs.”

Bourjos said it’s never really bothered him that he’s been branded mostly as a defensive player.

“I’ve had that label since I’ve probably signed,” Bourjos said. “It didn’t matter how well I hit in the minor leagues, it was always glove first. You can’t shake that label, it’s just there. You start going and having good at-bats, and hopefully they recognize that you’re an all-around good player.”

If his hot streak continues, Bourjos could find himself as an attractive trade piece to a playoff contender.

The non-wavier trade deadline is just one month away, and with the All-Star break even closer, teams will soon begin to determine if they need a boost in talent to make a playoff run. With the Phillies still rebuilding, they may want to capitalize on an opportunity to continue to build their farm system and deal a veteran.

The situation would be even more favorable for the Phillies considering Bourjos, 29, is playing on just a one-year deal. And taking advantage of this red-hot streak could be something to consider.

However, Bourjos says he’s unsure if that’ll happen.

“I’m not too sure about that, that’s a question for other general managers,” he said. “Obviously, I just want to go out and play as well as I can for this team, and hopefully I’m here the whole year.”

2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

Bryce Harper spent the bulk of his video press conference last Friday discussing the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this 2020 MLB season. There were a lot of questions about health protocols, social distancing and doubt from some players that attempting to play this season is actually the right decision.

Harper talked a little baseball too. And one answer towards the end of the press conference stood out. 

He was asked whether he felt he'd have enough time in a three-week training camp featuring just three exhibition games to adequately prepare for the season. 

Harper acknowledged it would be a challenge, particularly given the Phillies’ regular season schedule.    

"East vs. East, are you kidding me?" Harper said of his team's 60-game slate consisting of solely NL East and AL East opponents. "We're going to face a lot of good teams, a lot of good organizations, a lot of good pitching. I went down each roster and was thinking to myself there could be 14 Cy Youngs in this East vs. East. I mean, that's crazy."

Harper's math is spot on. 

I identified 12 starting pitchers that the Phillies could face this season who have either won a Cy Young or are capable of pitching at a Cy Young level.

And if you add a pair of Harper's teammates — Aaron Nola, who finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018, and Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young in 2015 — that brings the grand total of Cy Young caliber pitchers in this East vs. East format to ... 14. 

Just like Harper said. 

Let's run through all the big arms the Phillies could face in 2020. 

After a season-opening three-game series against the Marlins, the Phillies play four straight games against the Yankees. They'll almost certainly face Gerrit Cole and James Paxton during that four-game stretch. Cole, who signed a $324 million contract with New York in the offseason, is generally regarded as the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. Paxton is fully recovered from a back injury in the spring and has been among the top starters in the American League over the last six years.

The Phillies get their first look at the Braves a week later. Atlanta's rotation features 22-year-old ace Mike Soroka and 36-year old veteran Cole Hamels. Soroka posted a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts last season, finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting and second in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind the Mets' Pete Alonso. Hamels has finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting four times in his career and remains an elite starter when healthy. 

The Mets come to town in mid-August, led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. New York's rotation also includes Marcus Stroman, who finished in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting three years ago and finished with a 3.22 ERA in 32 starts last season. 

The Phillies don't play the Nationals until late August. But their 10 games against Washington will feature a heavy dose of three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race two years ago and 11th in the voting last season. 

If there's a team that has a “Big 3” comparable to the Nationals, it may be the Rays, who the Phillies visit in a three-game series to end the season. Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow highlight Tampa Bay's rotation. Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young, Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young race, and Glasnow is an emerging star who posted a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Yikes. 

But there is a silver lining — the Phillies don't have to worry about Chris Sale, Luis Severino or Noah Syndergaard. They're all out for the season with injuries. 

Nonetheless, the Phillies' bats better be ready from the outset. They'll be put to the test early and often. 

Subscribe and rate the Phillies Talk podcast:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19 / YouTube

More on the Phillies

Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper provided the first memorable moment of Phillies summer camp on Wednesday afternoon. 

It wasn’t with a swing or a web gem, but rather it was two words that has everyone talking.

“Sign him!” 

That’s what Harper exclaimed as he returned to the dugout following a home run by J.T. Realmuto in an intrasquad game. 

Harper can claim to be a five-tool player, but you might be able to add a sixth tool to the arsenal because he’s been as effective a representative for Realmuto in contract negotiations as Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent. 

In addition to Wednesday’s on-field statement, Harper donned a t-shirt with Realmuto’s name and number during his initial workouts at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month. While Harper denied sending a message to the front office with his wardrobe, he did acknowledge that it would be “terrible and sad” if the Phillies were to lose Realmuto in free agency this offseason. 

If you want to argue that Harper’s actions and statement are an admirable attempt to help a teammate to a large pay day, that’s fair. It’s also likely that Harper views retaining Realmuto as the best path towards contention for the ballclub. 

The Phillies would be naive if they did not expect Harper to have a significant voice in team construction when they inked him to a 13-year, $330 million deal last year. Although it’s fair to assume they would prefer if Harper wasn’t hurting their negotiating position.  

Either way, a player of Harper’s stature and salary certainly has the right to speak his mind on roster matters.  

Let’s say Realmuto and the Phillies agree to a record-setting contract extension for a catcher. That would make the All-Star backstop the third nine-figure player on the Phillies’ payroll (Harper and Zack Wheeler). Keep in mind, this is an organization without a winning season since 2011 and that looks to be several key pieces away from true contention. 

Who knows where the Phillies will find themselves four years down the road? It’s possible Harper and Realmuto will have taken a late October ride or two down Broad Street in that time. It’s also possible that the club will have failed to take the next step in their development, the young pieces never reaching the level needed to contend. At that stage, the club could lack the flexibility to improve due its significant financial obligations. 

If the latter happens, let’s be clear: Harper has forfeited the right to justifiably complain about a perceived lack of commitment or a feeling of being misled about the intentions of ownership. It might be hyperbole to suggest the former NL MVP is forcing the Phillies’ hand with Realmuto, but he’s certainly making it known how he wants the team built. 

Harper does not appear to be that type of person that will turn on the Phillies if things do not go as hoped, but we’ve all been down this road before with unhappy superstars across the sporting landscape. 

It might not be an issue for today, but there’s a chance that day just may come.  

Stay tuned.

Subscribe and rate the Phillies Talk podcast:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19 / YouTube

More on the Phillies