Playoffs starting to feel more realistic to these surprising Phillies

Playoffs starting to feel more realistic to these surprising Phillies



Hey, based on recent history ...

The Phillies have 14 more games until the All-Star break, but in practical purposes, Saturday was the midpoint of the season, Game 81. The Phils beat the Nationals in a nailbiter, 3-2, to improve to 44-37 (see first take).

Last season, eight teams were 44-37 at the season's official midpoint. All eight teams ended up making the playoffs.

That fact, coupled with how well the Phils have fared against playoff-caliber competition these last five weeks, has a young team believing.

"I think it always felt realistic to us," manager Gabe Kapler said, "but certainly the closer we get and the more we hang around and we're not just in the race but in many ways in a really strong position, yeah, it does become more tangible. It does become more real. And we do have to prepare even harder."

The Phils have their series finale Sunday afternoon against the Nationals, then they play 13 straight games against the Orioles, Pirates, Mets and Marlins. 

Those four clubs are a combined 71 games under .500. Their collective .391 winning percentage means that the Phillies are playing the equivalent of a 100-loss team for two straight weeks leading into the All-Star break.

If June was the month to stay alive, July is the month to take advantage.

"I felt like we were in a solid position coming into the month and we knew that this was going to be a major test," Kapler said. "We knew there were going to be bumps and bruises along the way and there were. It was a really difficult road trip when we went West, but I think we went toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in baseball. We have a long way to go but I think we're in a good position, a strong position."

Saturday's win was one of the best the Phillies have had all season. If they lost, you'd have heard all about the bullpen's ineffectiveness again. But this time, in front of a sellout crowd of 42,746 on fireworks night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phils' bullpen met the task.

Victor Arano pitched two scoreless innings after Velasquez exited early with an injury. Tommy Hunter pitched the fifth and sixth. Adam Morgan pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and was bailed out by Yacksel Rios after putting the first two men on in the eighth. And Seranthony Dominguez, again, shut the door in the ninth, working around a two-out double from Daniel Murphy.

"It was actually pretty gratifying to the players," Kapler said. "Just because when we lost Vinny and our bullpen was a little bit taxed, we were thinking about how we were going to get through the game. First and foremost, how are we going to get through the game, make sure that we get enough innings and keep people safe? And then we just fought, we battled, we stayed in the game and we scored a couple runs and all of a sudden it looked like we were in position to win the game. 

"And at that point, this kind of becomes a playoff game and we do everything in our power to win it."

With the win, the Phils close the book on June at 13-14. Certainly, a better mark than anyone expected following their 1-7 start to the month.

A month ago, the thought of the Phillies remaining in contention in the second half seemed unrealistic. It looked like a hot start to the season that would lead to the inevitable June swoon. 

But you just can't underestimate the impact of a young team growing through a stretch that included some horrible losses and setbacks. Not when that stretch comes against the Brewers, Cubs, Yankees, Nationals, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Rockies.

"We're getting a little taste of it," Vince Velasquez said. "And we know what's coming."

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A simpler approach could get Rhys Hoskins to the future slugger we envisioned

A simpler approach could get Rhys Hoskins to the future slugger we envisioned

The Phillies finally got their slugger of the future.

That’s what Phillies fans and many people around the game were thinking after Rhys Hoskins became the fastest player in MLB history to slug 18 career home runs, accomplishing the feat in 34 games. Hoskins set the mark in a win against the Miami Marlins on September 14th, 2017 and you can relive it today on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

That home run off of former Phillie Vance Worley would also be the last of Hoskins’ rookie campaign. In the two seasons that have followed since, Hoskins has hit a more-than-respectable 63 total home runs. But his slugging percentage dropped in each season since 2017, going from .618 SLG as a rookie to .454 SLG in 2019.

So, where does Hoskins go from here? It would be overly critical to question whether Hoskins will be a one-year wonder. He has posted solid, if not spectacular, power numbers since that first season. But he also hasn’t been anywhere near the conversation for best power hitters in the National League either.

Here’s a reason for optimism: As much as he said the right things, my sense is that Hoskins was negatively impacted by the launch angle, pitch-taking mindset set forth as dogma by the Gabe Kapler regime. Hoskins already possesses those tendencies naturally. Adding more thought to the equation led to plate paralysis. As walks increased, production diminished from a player that this franchise is counting upon to create runs. With Joe Girardi and hitting coach Joe Dillon at the helm, there’s reason to think we’ll see Hoskins get back to “see ball, hit ball” mode.

It also can’t hurt to have a full season under his belt with Bryce Harper. While the two have a good relationship, it couldn’t have been easy to go from leading man to best supporting actor status. That dynamic should come more comfortably for Hoskins in the seasons ahead.

Who knows what the 2020 season will look like? Or if we’ll even have a season? But my bet is that Hoskins figures it out and puts together a 40 home run season in the not-too-distant future.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Shane Victorino joins to talk some ball


Phillies Talk podcast: Shane Victorino joins to talk some ball

A special guest joined the Phillies Talk podcast Friday: former Phillies All-Star and World Series champion Shane Victorino.

• Victorino on the sports shutdown

• His love of Philly, the fans and how they embraced him

• Why Philly made such a difference in his life

• The confidence that Charlie Manuel and Gene Lamont gave him

• Shane on his famous walk-off outfield assist

• Victorino's 40-yard dash vs. Troy Polamalu

• Victorino on Bryce Harper

• His message to Phillies fans

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