Phillies

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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The thoughts and sounds behind Bryce Harper's jaw-dropping home run

The thoughts and sounds behind Bryce Harper's jaw-dropping home run

Aaron Nola had no chance at seeing where the ball landed.

Not many did, unless you were a fan leisurely strolling through the center-field concourse and enjoying the amenities of Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park.

"I think it went over the stadium, from where I was sitting," Nola said. "It was a long one."

That's how powerfully Bryce Harper struck his first-inning home run in the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see observations). The ball left his bat at 114.1 miles per hour, traveled 466 feet and cleared the brick walls in center field.

It was loud and it made the sellout crowd of 42,354 fans louder.

"I think just as a fan, you just stop and watch the distance of the ball," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I don't think we saw a ball go that far to center field all year last year and certainly not this year. That's rare territory. Pretty impressive."

Harper pounced on a first-pitch fastball from Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela. The swing consisted of everything you want to see from Harper, who is 5 for 15 (.333) over his last four games with the homer and three doubles.

He's staying back and driving the ball.

"I think he's beginning to feel it," Kapler said. "I think part of that comes from the work he's been doing with [hitting coach] John Mallee, specifically being a little bit taller on his backside and his hands being a little bit closer to his body."

Harper didn't want to make too much about the distance of his home run. He remembered some advice from a former manager and five-time All-Star.

"Matt Williams always used to tell me, 'It's not how far, it's how many you hit,'" Harper said. "I'm just trying to go about it the right way every single day, doing things out there that help this team win. Just putting the bat to the ball and trying to win games.

Harper has eight home runs and 28 RBIs in 45 games. He has a .371 on-base percentage and is second in baseball to only Mike Trout with 34 walks.

However, he's hitting .230 and was 10 for his last 70 (.143) prior to this 5-for-15 stretch. The Phillies are seeing positive signs, though, from Harper's swing.

"We all believed he was going to break out of what he was in," Nola said. "Guy works hard, works hard at what he does. We've all seen what he's done in his career. Nobody is pressing over him, we know he's the gamer that he is and he does a lot to help the team.

On Saturday, it was a walk, a double and vicious contact on the first pitch he saw.

"I think Harp is best when he's gap to gap," Kapler said. "Every once in a while, he's out in front and pulls the ball down the line. He's at his best when he's hitting high line drives into the gaps, and the ones that he gets just underneath go into the seats or in this case, over everything in center field."

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The weather is warming and here comes Phillies' Aaron Nola

The weather is warming and here comes Phillies' Aaron Nola

The sun was beaming and Aaron Nola was in attack mode, letting the ball rip through the 78-degree heat.

Just like the days back in Baton Rouge, Louisiana?

"It's hot as hell down there in the summer," Nola said with a smile about his hometown.

It wasn't quite that hot Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, but Nola looked at home. He looked like himself, the Nola everybody watched in 2018 when he finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Or on second thought …

"Not just the 2018 version, but the best version of the 2018 version," manager Gabe Kapler said.

As the weather turns to warmer temperatures, the man with the most important right arm on the first-place Phillies could be turning into form. It sure appeared that way Saturday as he struck out a career-high-tying 12 batters to pick apart the Rockies in the Phillies' 2-1 win (see observations).

Nola delivered six innings of one-run ball in 106 pitches. He was firing from the get-go, striking out the side in the first inning on 13 pitches. All three punchouts were looking and punctuated by fastballs.

Five days ago from the same mound, Nola needed 38 pitches to finish the first inning against the Brewers. The weather was miserable, a wet 48 degrees at first pitch. He lasted just three frames, throwing 84 pitches in a no-decision.

That performance is now safely buried in the past.

"He was sharp, he was electric, he was running his fastball back over the plate off of the inside," Kapler said. "The curveball was sharp from the outset. When his curveball is good, you see lots of swings and misses, you see empty swings, and that's what was happening today for him."

Nola has a Louisiana coolness to him. The 25-year-old is laid-back, but he's laser-focused.

It's why the Phillies haven't been too worried about his 4.86 ERA entering Saturday or his pinpoint command not being all there through nine starts.

"When I've had conversations with Aaron after the starts that haven't been great, he's so consistent in talking about his process and that being the thing that he can control and the work that he does between starts," Kapler said. "He never comes off of that position. He doesn't cry in his soup, he's not thinking about the last outing that he had, he's already on to the next one. I think the reason that we saw him come out like lightning today is because of the work that he did between starts."

Nola improved to 4-0 with a 4.47 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 21 walks. He's 10 starts into the 2019 season and is only warming. Still, the Phillies have led the NL East and are just starting to see his best around mid-May.

"That's what I remember when I was with the Nats, facing that," Bryce Harper said. "It's getting hot out there, he's from Baton Rouge, so he likes pitching in hot weather, warm weather."

A quiet competitor like Nola knew Saturday's effort was possible, even with his previous start still fresh.

"It's baseball, anything happens," Nola said. "Last outing, I never threw 80-some pitches in three innings. I've never done it before, but it happens. Things can change really quick. Always got to trust what you're doing and keep working hard through the ups and downs."

That warm weather didn't hurt, either.

"It felt good outside," Nola said. "I got a good sweat on, I like sweating when I'm out there."

The Phillies will like Nola in the summer.

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