Phillies face same deficit as 2007, but this couldn't feel more different

Phillies face same deficit as 2007, but this couldn't feel more different

With 17 games to go, the Phillies are 7½ games out in the NL East.

Sound familiar?

In 2007, the Phils were seven games back in the NL East with 17 to play, the year they famously ran down the Mets and won the division the final day of the season.

But that's where the similarities end. This year has looked and felt different in just about every way.

The 2007 Phils had a dynamic offense that exemplified the current team's offensive philosophy of seeing a ton of pitches. They just didn't mention it every other day. Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell, even Ryan Howard at that point — all guys who would work deep counts and could end them in a powerful way.

Yet for Charlie Manuel, it was Hittin' Season ... not Takin' Pitches Season.

That '07 team was also great defensively. Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Utley in his prime at second base. The range and strong throwing arms from Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino and Werth, the steadiness behind the plate of Carlos Ruiz.

They also ran the bases extremely well. Utley (87.5 percent) and Werth (85.2) rank second and fifth, all-time, in stolen base success rate. Rollins and Victorino possessed game-changing speed atop the lineup. That team went 138 for 157 stealing bases — 88 percent.

The '07 team would have loved to have had Aaron Nola. Jake Arrieta would have fit in that rotation as well. Is there anyone else on this 2018 team who'd even sniff playing time? Keep in mind that Burrell in 2007 was an even more productive offensive player than Rhys Hoskins has been this season.

More of an '06 feel

The last two months of 2018 have felt more like 2006 than 2007 for the Phillies. In '06, a young Phillies team on the precipice of contention acquired a bunch of vets after the trade deadline: Jeff Conine, Randall Simon, Jose Hernandez. Jamie Moyer, of course.

Just like this team with Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Bour, Jose Bautista. (Wilson Ramos is a better player than all of the above so he doesn't count.)

That ‘06 team, though, did a lot of winning down the stretch and you knew the future was bright because it was a group of multidimensional, athletic players who also had the hit tool.

Still so many questions

As crazy as this sounds, the 2018 Phillies will enter the offseason with as many questions as the 2017 Phillies did.

This offense has averaged 4.23 runs per game. Last season, when the Phillies lost 96 games? They averaged 4.26 runs per game.

Despite adding Carlos Santana, having a full season of Hoskins and replacing Freddy Galvis with a young shortstop they felt great about, the Phils' offense did not improve.

The Phillies have no proof that they can contend with Cesar Hernandez at second base, Odubel Herrera in center, and Jorge Alfaro behind the plate. You'd think an upgrade of about a dozen wins would result in more answers, but Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail still have a ton of work to do.

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Who is that masked man at first base? It might be Rhys Hoskins

Who is that masked man at first base? It might be Rhys Hoskins

Rhys Hoskins is taking Major League Baseball’s health protocols very seriously.

Heck, he wore a mask during a zoom video session with reporters after Wednesday’s intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park.

Hoskins did not wear a mask during the game.

But he may opt to wear one when the regular season starts on July 24.

Or even sooner.

Hoskins is a first baseman and that position isn’t exactly the best place to employ social distancing. You have to hold runners on base, take pickoff throws from the pitcher and make sweep tags on runners diving back to the base. Occasionally, a first baseman and base runner get physically tangled. You know, the throw from the pitcher is off-line. The first baseman lunges to stop it from going down the right-field line. Next thing you know, the first baseman is sprawled on top of the base runner.

That doesn’t exactly qualify as good social-distance practice.

So Hoskins may don a mask in the field one of these days.

“I thought that any time I was on the field, I would not be wearing a mask, but maybe it’s something I keep in my back pocket in a Ziploc baggie or something,” Hoskins said. “When somebody gets on first, I throw it on."

“It might make some more sense if I am wearing a mask in the field.”

Sitting outside the Phillies’ clubhouse, Hoskins tugged on the mask he was wearing during his zoom interview. 

“I’m not super bothered by it,” he said. “These are pretty comfortable. Hot for sure but the expense of being hot is worth not catching this thing and potentially ruining a season. It’s definitely something I’ll have to give thought to and ask the trainers and see what they say and go from there. I’m not opposed to it.”

Hoskins knows full well what a beast coronavirus can be. He and teammate Scott Kingery are longtime best buds. Kingery spoke of his battle with coronavirus earlier this week.

First base is baseball’s water cooler and the men who play the position are generally gregarious by nature. Hoskins is no exception. He likes to chat with base runners and share a laugh during breaks in the action.

That practice might be going away. Just like spitting.

Will Hoskins chat with base runners?

“I don't know if I will,” he said. “At least if I am, it's definitely not looking at him. I'll probably just continue to look at the pitcher.  

“But yeah, that's something that happens, I think, on every baseball field. Runner on first, there's usually some sort of exchange and off we go, we're talking about whatever we're talking about. Again, just a little adjustment that we'll have to make."

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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.


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. 

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