Phillies

Could this year's Phillies starting 8 be better than the 2008 Phillies lineup?

Could this year's Phillies starting 8 be better than the 2008 Phillies lineup?

The 2008 Phillies will forever have a place in the heart of every Phillies fan, for one obvious reason: they won it all. A big reason they were able to win the World Series is the strength of their offense. Led by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, the 2008 Phillies led the National League with 214 home runs, and finished second in the NL with a .438 team slugging percentage.

But the Phillies' offseason shopping spree netted them three starting position players who all made the All-Star Game last season, the first time that has happened in MLB history. It also gave them perhaps the most dangerous lineup in the game today.

With Bryce Harper now in the fold, I raise the question: how does the 2019 starting 8 stack up offensively with that of the 2008 World Series champs? Let's take it position-by-position.

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz vs. J.T. Realmuto
Make no mistake: we all love Chooch. But as much as we value him and his place in the Phillies' golden run, he was not strong offensively, especially in 2008, when he hit just .219 in 117 games. Ruiz managed four homers and 31 RBI on the season, numbers I expect Realmuto to eclipse by about May 15. Verdict: 2019

First Base: Ryan Howard vs. Rhys Hoskins
Hoskins has a lot of potential, especially with the protection that will be around him in this lineup, but Ryan Howard in his prime was a force of nature. Fourty-eight homers, 146 RBI. Just an absolute monster out of the cleanup spot. Verdict: 2008

Second Base: Chase Utley vs. Cesar Hernandez
This one is also not close. Utley hit 33 homers and had his fourth straight 100-RBI season in 2008. Hernandez is a good player, and a nice on-base guy at the top of the lineup, but you can't argue this one. Verdict: 2008

Third base: Pedro Feliz vs. Maikel Franco
The only reason Feliz didn't hit eighth in the 2008 Phillies lineup is because Carlos Ruiz was also playing that day. Meanwhile, Franco quietly has been productive. Three straight seasons with at least 22 homers, and he also led the Phillies in batting average last season (not a huge feat, but .270 is a good average) Verdict: 2019 

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins vs. Jean Segura
Fairly even matchup here. Both Rollins and Segura have pop, and a lot of speed. I'll give the nod to J-Roll here, because he has more of both. And Jimmy could always bring it when the red light was on. Verdict: 2008 

Left field: Pat Burrell vs. Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen is a former NL MVP and a five-time All-Star, but I'm giving the edge to The Bat here. Thirty-three homers, 86 RBI, 102 walks, and an OPS that was just a few ticks behind Howard's for the season (.875, compared to .881 for Howard). This was Burrell's last good season, and he was an underrated force in the middle of the lineup. Verdict: 2008 

Center field: Shane Victorino vs. Odubel Herrera
The image of Victorino leaping on top of the pile following the final out in the World Series is indelible. But this one is closer to me than you may think. I feel like these two players are similar. Streaky hitters, good speed-power combo, even down to the occasional mental errors on the field. I'm hopeful Herrera shakes off last year's second half and gives the team more of what we saw in early 2018. Verdict: Push

Right field: Jayson Werth vs. Bryce Harper 
We are through the looking glass here. A player who left the Phillies to head south to D.C. against the new addition, who did the opposite this week. I don't think this is a close race. While Werth was a significant cog in the 2008 machine, Harper gives you so much more offensively that it's not a fair fight. Verdict: 2019 

Based on the individual matchups, I'm giving a slight edge to the 2008 team. I will say that the fac it's close enough to argue will make for a fun spring and summer, with the hopes for many more to come.

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What's up with Hector Neris? Bad time for Phillies' closer to be going south

What's up with Hector Neris? Bad time for Phillies' closer to be going south

We've talked the Phillies' starting pitching issues to death lately. Now, they appear to be dealing with one in the ninth inning.

Hector Neris blew the save Tuesday night. Over his last 11 innings, he has allowed 12 runs on 14 hits, six walks and four homers.

Neris threw 11 splitters Tuesday and seven of them were ineffective, flattening out with horizontal movement. When the pitch flattens out as it has lately, it either catches too much plate or becomes a relatively easy take for a left-handed hitter.

"At times, Hector can get a little rotational, get on the side of the baseball instead of on top of it and lose his direction to the plate," manager Gabe Kapler said Tuesday night.

"It can cause both his split and his heater to move more horizontally and into a left-handed hitter's barrel. It's an issue that he's encountered more recently, and we are actively looking to correct it."

The Phillies do not have a better option than Neris to close. David Robertson will be out at least another few weeks. Tommy Hunter longer than that. Pat Neshek was recently transferred to the 60-day IL. Seranthony Dominguez could be back at some point this season but isn't ready yet.

They have to roll with Neris, even through the recent struggles. He could be dealing with some fatigue. He appears only in high-leverage, high-stress innings, and you can't ignore the frequency with which he throws his splitter, a pitch that notoriously causes stress and tension of the elbow. Neris has used his splitter more than 68 percent of the time this season. Yes, he's always thrown it a lot, but that's still much higher than previous seasons. Neris threw it 50 percent of the time in 2017 and 49 percent in 2018.

The Phillies did not foresee a scenario in which they'd have only two reliable relievers a week after the All-Star break. Right now, it's just Neris and Adam Morgan. They won Tuesday night largely because two other relievers, Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio, stepped up to retire all six Dodgers they faced.

In a perfect world, Neris is more of a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever. For the 2019 Phillies, he's had to be the bullpen savior. It's catching up to him. How he responds from here could determine how long the Phillies stay in the wild-card race.

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Will reported extension protect Matt Klentak if Phillies underachieve?

Will reported extension protect Matt Klentak if Phillies underachieve?

Phillies GM Matt Klentak this past spring signed a contract extension through 2022, according to The Athletic

It followed an offseason in which Klentak acquired J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins, Jean Segura from the Mariners and Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson in free agency. At Harper's introductory press conference, Phillies managing partner John Middleton went through the historic nature of Klentak's offseason. 

"I mean, seriously, Branch Rickey never had this kind of offseason. Pat Gillick never had this kind of offseason," Middleton said. "I'm not telling you [Klentak] had the greatest single offseason in the history of baseball, but you know what? If you make that statement, people might quibble with it but they can't really argue with it too hard. Because nobody's ever done what this kid did."

Middleton was referring to Klentak's adding three position players who were All-Stars the prior season.

The Phillies, at 49-46, have underachieved. Fans have called for the heads of Klentak, manager Gabe Kapler and team president Andy MacPhail. MacPhail's deal reportedly runs through 2021. 

If the Phillies disappoint in the second half, miss the playoffs and/or have a slow start next season, these contract extensions do not grant any of them immunity. They will be judged by the team's performance because they are responsible for it. A three-year extension won't save any of them if it comes to that point. We see managers, coaches and GMs let go all the time with years remaining on their deals.

The assumption here is that all three men will finish out the 2019 season and maintain their jobs into 2020. The Phillies, even if they miss the playoffs, could say that their key players underperformed, they dealt with as many crucial injuries as any team in baseball and that they want to give this core another shot.

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