5 main reasons Phillies' offense fell apart

5 main reasons Phillies' offense fell apart

With the Phillies eliminated from playoff contention, we'll take a look back this week at the five main reasons why the Phils fell apart in the second half and how they can correct each issue moving forward.

Today, it's offense. 

1. Rhys Hoskins slumped for too much of the second half

Hoskins did not have a bad year. He has 33 homers, 94 RBI and an .845 OPS.

He just spent too much of the most important part of the season in a cold spell.

Hoskins surged out of the All-Star break, hitting .357 with eight homers and seven doubles in his first 14 games. He credited the Home Run Derby for the return of his aggressiveness and pull power.

But from Aug. 4 on — the entirety of the Phils' downward phase — Hoskins hit .195 with a .294 OBP and drove in less than a run every two games.

The 2018 Phillies were to set up to be carried by Hoskins, a difficult task for a player who entered the season with less than a full year of big-league service time. The Phils were basically asking him to be Freddie Freeman, which he's not. Nobody else is.

2. Odubel Herrera regressed hard

Herrera set career highs this season in homers (22) and RBI (68). That was pretty much it, in terms of positives.

Herrera's approach was off all year. He hit 25 points lower than he did a year ago. He's stopped walking. He hit .246 against right-handed pitching. 

It wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Phils move on from Herrera this offseason, despite the three guaranteed years remaining on his contract.

Herrera just isn't a Gabe Kapler or Matt Klentak style of player. He doesn't have a sound, consistently thoughtful approach in the box. He kind of just goes up there and does whatever. It seems like the front office is at the point in its cycle where it's getting rid of the holdovers of the previous regime and bringing in its own guys.

If the Phillies can flip Herrera for a starting pitcher or decent reliever, they probably will.

3. Batting average does still matter

On-base percentage is the more important figure, but you still need players who, ya know, hit. For much of the second half of the season, the Phillies' leading hitter was Maikel Franco at .268. That is a major problem. You do not win a division with only one or two players getting a hit more than once every four at-bats.

A team can win with Hoskins and Carlos Santana seeing as many pitches as they do in important lineup spots. But you also need a few guys who can at least hit between .280 and .290. A player like D.J. LeMahieu, who hits a ton of singles but doesn't walk much, does still have value. There are multiple ways to skin a cat.

The Phillies were home run-reliant all season because they lacked athleticism from several lineup spots and were a station-to-station offense. Not much single, single, runners on the corners to begin an inning.

4. Never got enough offense from SS

Scott Kingery was the least productive everyday position player in the majors in the first half, and Asdrubal Cabrera didn't provide enough in the second half, hitting .228/.286/.392. 

Kingery may be playing 2B next season, and the Phillies by their actions do not feel J.P. Crawford is an everyday shortstop yet (or perhaps ever). Even when both were healthy, Kingery got the reps at short with Crawford at third.

The Phillies could bring in a veteran shortstop this offseason.

5. Santana didn't turn it around until it was too late

Santana had a great month of May, hitting .281/.373/.594 with 22 RBI in 26 games.

He was good in June, hitting .235/.417/.435.

And during the Phillies' worst period in August, he seemed to be the only one hitting. But for far too long this summer, he didn't hit for average or power. 

Santana is seven walks away from a career high. But he's hit .229, a career low in his nine seasons. 

Compared to the Brewers' big offseason moves (Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain), the Phillies got very little out of Santana and Jake Arrieta.

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It's clear Phillies want an experienced manager — could a hire come quickly?

It's clear Phillies want an experienced manager — could a hire come quickly?

Phillies officials are busy again Wednesday as they look to fill the team’s open manager’s position.

According to sources, club officials are meeting Wednesday with veteran skipper Dusty Baker.

The meeting comes after team officials interviewed Buck Showalter on Monday. It is believed that club officials also met with Joe Girardi on Monday.

At the moment, these are the only known candidates for the Phillies’ job, though more could emerge. 

Between them, Baker, Showalter and Girardi have 53 years of big-league managing experience and they have won a combined seven manager of the year awards and 13 division titles. Girardi led the New York Yankees to the World Series title in 2009. His club beat the Phillies in six games.

At a news conference Friday, the day after the Phillies announced Gabe Kapler’s firing, team officials were not specific when asked what qualities they were looking for in a new manager. But by focusing on Girardi, Showalter and Baker, the Phillies are clearly looking for big-league experience in their next skipper, and a person with knowledge of the Phillies’ thinking confirmed this.

“They want major-league experience,” the person said. 

If the Phillies’ search is limited to just Girardi, Showalter and Baker, the club could conceivably make a quick hire — maybe as soon as next week. Monday is a scheduled off day between the League Championship Series and World Series. Thursday is a scheduled off day between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series. Major League Baseball frowns on significant announcements during the postseason but it could OK a managerial announcement on an off day.

If the World Series goes seven games, it would end on October 30.

It is not clear who the Phillies’ top candidate is. It very well could be Girardi because of his experience working with a front office that values the use of analytics in building a roster and running a game. The Yankees are one of baseball’s analytic powerhouses. Girardi, however, is a former catcher who also relies on feel in running a game. That balance could be attractive to the Phillies.

Girardi has also interviewed for the Chicago Cubs’ manager’s job and is said to be on the list of candidates for the New York Mets’ opening. Showalter and Baker have not been mentioned, at least publicly, for other openings. Showalter has extensive connections to the Phillies’ front office. He worked closely with several high-ranking Phillies officials during their time in Baltimore. Showalter skippered the Orioles from 2010 through 2018. He is very interested in the Phillies' job and, according to sources, has done homework on the team's roster.

Baker has 22 years of big-league managerial experience and is a three-time NL manager of the year. He last managed the Washington Nationals in 2017 and led that club to 97 wins and the NL East title.

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Lessons to learn from the ascent of World Series-bound Nationals

Lessons to learn from the ascent of World Series-bound Nationals

The Nationals made quick work of the Cardinals in the NLCS, sweeping them emphatically to break through to the World Series after years of playoff disappointments.

Much has been made, here and in D.C., about the Nationals doing this in the first season after Bryce Harper left them for the Phillies. It quite obviously has nothing to do with Harper's absence ... other than the fact that it opened the door for Washington to replace him with Patrick Corbin. In their first year with their new teams, Corbin equaled or out-produced Harper. 

Can any lessons be learned from the 2019 Nats?

Paid the right pitchers

They zigged when so many other organizations have zagged away from paying premium prices for aces. Pitchers are fragile and so many of the nine-figure contracts for them do not pan out.

The Nationals, though, correctly identified three pitchers worth the money. Max Scherzer will go down as one of the four best pitchers of his era, along with Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Jacob deGrom. Stephen Strasburg saved his best work for 2019, leading the NL with 209 innings after averaging 145 the previous four seasons. Strasburg was especially dominant late in the season and in the NL playoffs, pitching so well that it seems like a no-brainer now for him to opt-out this winter of the final three years and $75 million on his contract.

And then there's Corbin, who struck out 12 and won Game 4 against the Cardinals after appearing as both a starter and reliever in the Nationals' preceding playoff series. Corbin was fantastic this season, going 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 238 K's in 202 innings. He signed that six-year, $140 million contract in the offseason. If Washington gets four years close to this from Corbin, that deal is a win.

A key difference between this Nationals playoff run and previous ones was the presence of that third ace in Corbin, and the commitment from Dave Martinez to ride his aces. Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin all started and appeared in relief.

The perfect mid-rotation piece

It helped that Aníbal Sanchez was also awesome when he pitched. Two years in a row, an NL East team has signed Sanchez and two years in a row, he's produced like a No. 2 or 3 starter — 3.39 ERA in 303 innings for the Braves and Nats since 2018. Think about how much farther along the Phillies would be if, say, Jake Arrieta's ERA the last two seasons was closer to 3.39 than 4.26. A useful veteran in Sanchez has been right under their nose.

The Nationals didn't only hit on their big-ticket items like Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin. They also hit on the right mid-tier veterans like Sanchez and doubles-machine Howie Kendrick, the NLCS MVP who has hit .322 in 2½ seasons as a National since being traded by the Phillies at the 2017 deadline.

If you paid attention, you could tell

It was not a trendy pick to go with the Nationals over the Dodgers when the NLDS began, especially in this area where so many fans (rightfully) have enjoyed basking in the Nats' postseason failures.

But something looked and felt different about this year's Nationals team, particularly in September when they were steamrolling opponents after playing months of playoff-type games just to get back in the race. By the end, they had the best and healthiest roster they'd had all season. Daniel Hudson finally gave them a second option to close games or set up for Sean Doolittle. That missing high-leverage option cost Washington game after game in April and May.

Rendon had a career year. Juan Soto solidified himself as an elite hitter you never want to face in a pressure situation. All three of the aces were healthy at the end of the season, which is meaningful because it so rarely happens these days. Scherzer missed seven starts in July and August and didn't go deep into games when he returned, but in the playoffs, he's been the dominant Scherzer. The two teams with the best and healthiest horses — Washington and Houston — are the two teams in the best position right now to win it all.

Learning how to win BS

Teams don't "learn how to win" until they do. Look at the 2015 Royals. Look at the 2008 Phillies. Those were young cores that had been together for several seasons without breaking through. The Phillies were not viewed as the World Series favorite at any point in the '08 season, nor were the Royals in '15.

"Learning how to win" can really just mean pulling out an extra game in October and riding the momentum the way the Nats have. If ace lefty reliever Josh Hader was able to pick up the final outs needed by the Brewers in the wild-card game, the narrative about the Nats would have continued. Instead, it has changed dramatically in the span of two weeks.

Big free agents

The Nationals are going to be a problem for years to come, especially if they can retain superstar free-agent-to-be Anthony Rendon. If Washington loses both Rendon and Strasburg, the NL East opens up. If they retain both, they'll remain likely to win 90-plus games for at least the next three seasons. If they retain one and not the other, the gap between the Nationals, Braves and Phillies will shrink a bit but Washington will still have the most top-end talent.

The Phillies will likely be looking up at the Nats and Braves again next season unless they can add some talent. Adding some talent does not only mean potentially signing a superstar like Rendon or Gerrit Cole. It also means finding the right bench pieces or extra men like Kendrick. It means finally identifying a Sanchez for the rotation rather than a starting pitcher you send out and cross your fingers will get outs. It means having the foresight at the trade deadline to acquire a mid-tier reliever like Hudson who you can ride through high-leverage innings when he's hot.

Matt Klentak didn't inherit the same type of core but he hasn't successfully made those moves as Phillies GM. Mike Rizzo has. The Nationals have drafted better than the Phillies, made better international signings, made better free-agent signings and better trades. That's why they're headed to the World Series while the Phillies are searching for a new manager.

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