Phillies

Clock ticking on Phillies to add the pitching they need

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Clock ticking on Phillies to add the pitching they need

There are two elements to the Phillies’ offseason: The pursuit of megastars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and the pursuit of anyone else. 

That “anyone else” specifically refers to additional starting pitching and bullpen help. So far this offseason, despite the Phillies’ well-known desire to add a lefty starter to an all-righty rotation and a lefty reliever to the bullpen, they’ve missed out on Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ and Andrew Miller. 

With Corbin, it was understandable. Six years and $144 million would have been a humongous investment for a team better served to allocate that money to a player who makes a difference more than once every fifth day. It was a logical deal for the Nationals, who replace some of Harper’s production and get to say to their fan base, “Hey, we didn’t keep Bryce but here’s a consolation prize.” 

The Phillies clearly did not feel Happ was a meaningful enough upgrade to commit three years to. And from Happ’s perspective, the Yankees were a better fit in terms of immediate contention for a 36-year-old pitcher. 

The Miller non-signing was confusing. The Phillies heavily pursued him and it seemed like a deal was close to being done, only for Miller to sign a two-year, $25 million contract with the Cardinals. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and a third-year vesting option. The no-trade clause was important to Miller after he was dealt following his last contract. 

The third-year vesting option and no-trade clause couldn’t have been dealbreakers for the Phillies. If they were, it’s strange. If the third year vests, it means Miller has stayed healthy and productive. And it’s not as if trading him would’ve been a necessity if things went south. 

The Phillies must not have felt totally comfortable with Miller’s health. He spent much of 2018 on the DL with three different injuries and was not his typical dominant self. The previous four years, Miller was perhaps the best reliever in all of baseball. 

He would have made a ton of sense for the Phillies and for Gabe Kapler, who likes using his best relievers in the highest-leverage situation, regardless of inning. That is the optimal way to use Miller, who has the stamina to get five or six outs when needed. 

Now, the Phillies’ best lefty option in the bullpen is Zach Britton, who they’ve wanted for a while. Britton would still be a big upgrade to this bullpen, but it will cost a pretty penny. Why would Scott Boras seek anything less for Britton than Miller received?

In terms of starting pitchers, Dallas Keuchel is still out there, but he’s trending down. Do you really want to be paying Keuchel and Jake Arrieta — two groundballers who miss few bats — a combined $42-45 million the next two years?

Fair or not, the “stupid money” comments from Phillies owner John Middleton placed even more pressure on the front office than anticipated. And while Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen are good additions, the Phils cannot expect to realistically push for 90 wins with their current rotation and bullpen, unless major strides are made by pitchers who were inconsistent in 2018.

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There are way bigger things to worry about with Phillies than Rhys Hoskins

There are way bigger things to worry about with Phillies than Rhys Hoskins

Rhys Hoskins is in a slump. An ill-timed slump, given the time of year and the Phillies’ position in a crowded but still somehow winnable wild-card race. 

Hoskins made four more outs Sunday. He’s 1 for his last 24. He’s hit .148 over his last 30 games. 

This rut from Hoskins has affected the Phillies’ record, but it’s nothing more than a slump and shouldn’t be viewed as such just because it is happening right now. It is not a sign that the organization needs to go out this offseason and find a better first baseman. It is not some definitive piece of evidence that Hoskins needs to move to the bottom of the order. 

We always overvalue what we’ve just seen. Hoskins hasn’t hit for a month, so his hot streaks become harder to recall and feel less long and less productive than they are. 

But consider this: Hoskins’ on-base percentage dipped below .380 Sunday for the first time since opening day. It took a stretch this cold for his on-base and power numbers to decrease to their current levels, which are still impressive. 

Hoskins’ OBP is 40 points higher than the league average for first basemen. His slugging percentage is 13 points higher than his first base peers and 40 points better than the league overall. He has made an out nearly 75 percent of the time he’s stepped to the plate over the last month, yet is still having an offensive season better than at least half of the league’s first basemen. 

Hoskins’ numbers likely won’t end up where they are now. We’ve seen too much evidence that he is a better hitter than this. A multi-year track record matters more than four weeks. It is a simple concept that always sounds logical until a player is in the midst of a run as poor as Hoskins’. 

Will Hoskins finish the year hitting .237? Will his slump last much longer? If you’re looking for a couple positive signs, take his 400-foot flyout to straightaway center that was a foot shy of tying Sunday’s game in the eighth inning. Hoskins had better swings and tracked pitches better in that game than he has for much of the past month.

He was confident and didn’t seem defeated after the game Sunday. 

“Look, I feel great,” he said after the Padres took two of three. “Obviously, it sucks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise, I feel great. I feel like for the most part I’m seeing pitches. I’m seeing the ball fine. Just for whatever reason things are a little off and the last couple weeks when I do click something, it’s right at somebody. 

“That’s baseball. Unfortunately, I know that’s really cliché. I wish I had a different answer. I’ve sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn. Water will find its level.”

“I'm feeling pretty protective of him right now,” manager Gabe Kapler said, “because I know how hard he's working and I know how much effort and time he's putting in. The at-bat quality remains strong even though at the end, the results aren't there. 

“I know how disappointed he is in it and I'm disappointed for him because I know this is going to turn around for him. I know these at-bats are going to end in doubles and homers.” 

Still realistic for Hoskins to finish with an OPS around .900 with 30-plus homers and 90-plus RBI. That would be a very good season. Maybe not a “great” season, but remember again that this is a third-year player making less than $600,000. Should a very good player be blamed for not being a great player?

There are just far more important things to worry about with this team in 2019 and beyond than Rhys Hoskins. 

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A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

As the Delaware Valley held its breath awaiting word of what happened to Bryce Harper, the Phillies again fell short against the Padres, losing 3-2 to close out a homestand that began with fireworks and ended with the excitement of a suburban dad mowing his lawn.

After sweeping the Cubs and winning a fourth straight game in the series opener vs. San Diego, the Phillies managed just five runs and 10 hits total in the final two losses.

This team ...

As for Harper, he is OK. He was suffering from blurred vision after the fourth inning and was forced to exit after five. The Phillies called it dehydration. Harper had an IV and was feeling better after the game. This was something he hadn't experienced before.

"An hour ago, I couldn't see in front of me," Harper said postgame, his eyes still sensitive to light.

He will be fine by Tuesday — good news because the Phillies are not going anywhere without him — when the quick two-game series at Fenway Park begins. 

Manager Gabe Kapler was happy Sunday with the quality of the Phillies' at-bats. He referenced the 110 pitches they made starter Joey Lucchesi throw and the 27 more they forced from closer Kirby Yates.

If a team is winning consistently or hitting consistently, maybe that kind of grind-it-out approach can make up for a loss or a series loss. But not as much when it's said about a team that hasn't been able to sustain momentum at any point this season, especially offensively. 

Sure, the Phillies made Lucchesi and Yates work. They also made an out in 18 of 23 plate appearances against them. 

The best example of the Phils' falling short on Sunday was Rhys Hoskins' 400-foot blast to the 401-foot sign in center field in the eighth inning. Padres centerfielder Manuel Margot raised his glove above his head and caught a ball that was a foot, maybe less, from going out and tying the game. In every game, you will find the sort of baseball randomness that impacts winning and losing. That deep, loud flyout was Sunday's example.

It was an 0-for-4 day for Hoskins atop the lineup, but ...

"Look, I feel great," said Hoskins, who is 1 for his last 24 and has hit .148 over his last 30 games.

"Obviously, it sucks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise, I feel great. I feel like for the most part I'm seeing pitches. I'm seeing the ball fine. Just for whatever reason, things are a little off and the last couple weeks when I do hit something, it's right at somebody. 

"That's baseball. Unfortunately, I know that's really cliché. I wish I had a different answer. I've sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn. Water will find its level."

Water has found its level with Harper and J.T. Realmuto, two of baseball's hottest hitters in the month of August. Had Hoskins also been going well at this time, just imagine the run totals or win streaks the Phillies could have run off. 

Instead, on Sunday they wasted a rare strong pitching performance from someone other than Aaron Nola. Jason Vargas limited the Padres to two runs over 5⅔ innings. He has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts as a Phillie but the team is just 1-3 because it has scored a total of five runs with Vargas in the game in his four starts.

"If we keep pitching like we do and the bullpen keeps pitching like (it has), we've seen how hot we can get quickly," Hoskins said.

"We swept a good team in the Cubs. Obviously, disappointing to lose a series to the Padres, but we talked about this a couple nights ago — you could feel the difference in here this week. It just feels a little different. There's a little more swagger and a little more confidence. Tough loss today but we'll be all right."

The Phillies have 38 games left to make a run and end a playoff drought of seven years. Harper was surprised when it was relayed to him Sunday that no Phillies team since 1990 has had its longest winning streak last just four games.

"That's crazy," he said. "In the game now, you see (Jacob) deGrom for six and see somebody else out of the bullpen, four other guys, three other guys. The game has definitely changed. It's evolved.

"Hopefully we can break that a little bit and win five in a row. Why not?"

One reason to remain skeptical: The last two times the Phillies have won four in a row, they lost their next series to the Marlins and Padres. You just don't know which Phillies will team show up on a given day.

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