Phillies

'Frustrating' stoppage for Rhys Hoskins, who was in a rhythm with new stance

'Frustrating' stoppage for Rhys Hoskins, who was in a rhythm with new stance

The night Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA shut down, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban remarked that he lives by a mantra that "life is 50% random." 

If 2020 isn't proof of that ...

Had baseball season started on time, the Phillies would be 11 games in. Rhys Hoskins would be almost two weeks into a crucial fourth big-league season in which he needed to bounce back. 

We saw a different look from Hoskins at the plate in spring training. Over the offseason, he adjusted his setup, lowering his hands and relaxing his arms while opening up his batting stance a bit. While Hoskins is not running himself ragged in the cage every day, he is continuing to work toward making the new setup and stance stick subconsciously.

"Towards the end of spring I was starting to get a little bit of rhythm with the adjustments I was making, which was frustrating to have it end," Hoskins told NBC Sports Philadelphia over the weekend. 

"I haven't hit a whole lot yet. There's a lot of dry work that goes on, a lot of dry repetitions just to continue that muscle memory. But this just gives me a little bit of time to really make it feel normal. Things like the setup or the initial move. You don't need a ball coming at you to really practice those things. 

"Those repetitions happen probably hundreds of times per day, in the middle of the kitchen, the driveway, the garage, just trying to keep myself occupied."

That's where we are, folks. You've got 30-home run hitters practicing their swings in the kitchen just like your everyday little-leaguer.

"I have to stay ready," Hoskins continued. "I'm essentially treating this like it's Thanksgiving of the offseason. As we progress, I'll progress just like I would in a normal offseason."

It's so obvious that it no longer needs to be said or written that the Phillies need Hoskins to rebound in 2020 to reach their ceiling. Despite the league-wide power surge in 2019 caused by the juiced baseball, Hoskins hit five fewer home runs in 45 more plate appearances than he had in 2018. His slugging percentage dipped from .496 to .454. He led the National League with 116 walks but also struck out 173 times and hit just .226.

It's a well-documented narrative. Already a pull-happy hitter, Hoskins was even more extreme in 2019 as his swing became more and more of an uppercut.

The Gabe Kapler-John Mallee tandem is long gone at this point, replaced by new manager Joe Girardi and new hitting coach Joe Dillon.

"Both of them have been great," Hoskins said. "I think there's a poise and professionalism that really is present throughout the whole staff but it obviously starts with Joe Girardi. He has kind of put that imprint on the rest of the staff in such a short time which obviously has me excited for what's to come when we get to spend a little more time around each other."

Soon, please.

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An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

It's June 4, a month away from what would be a perfect opening day for baseball, yet on and on the financial negotiations go.

MLB unsurprisingly rejected the players' 114-game proposal and the latest reports are that the league is considering a season of 50 games.

Sounds silly, doesn't even sound like baseball, seems unlikely to happen. 

The league wants fewer games because each game will cost clubs money. Players want more games because they want a greater share of their prorated salary. The sides are at this standstill because the players thought the March agreement guaranteed them their full prorated salaries, but there was a caveat in the deal about a season without fans in stands. 

The league also wants the regular season to end by October to best avoid having to shut down amid a coronavirus surge later in the year. Postseason broadcast revenue accounts for $787 million, according to ESPN.

So, how can these sides reach a compromise? The players want their full prorated salaries. The owners could agree to that but not for 114 games, and seemingly not for 82. 

What if the league guaranteed players 75% of their prorated pay? It's not 100% like the MLBPA thought it was agreeing to in March, but is there any realistic path to 100%? A compromise is required.

Rather than pay it out over 82 games, just play 75% of that 82-game schedule. That would be 62 games of full prorated pay for players. That length, 62 games, represents about 38% of a normal 162-game season. 

For the highest-paid players, it's a big bump up from what they would have made under that designed-to-fail sliding scale proposal. Someone like Bryce Harper, with an annual average salary of $25.4 million, could earn $9.7 million. This would put Zack Wheeler in the vicinity of $9 million, Jake Arrieta $7.7 million, Andrew McCutchen $6.4 million, Aaron Nola, $4.3 million, J.T. Realmuto, $3.8 million, Rhys Hoskins $232,500.

In a 62-game schedule, the Phillies could play three series of three games against each NL East foe (36 games). They could face each of the other 10 NL teams in one series, with four of those series being two-gamers. The Phils could play two in Colorado and two in Arizona back-to-back, two in Los Angeles and two in San Diego. 

Or teams could avoid long, cross-country trips and remain on their own coast, with the Phillies playing the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox and Rays instead of the NL West.

It also could be even more division-heavy than that. For what it's worth, teams play 47% of their games inside the division in a normal season.

If the season is going to be shorter than 82 games, it also means these negotiations could extend. If you're playing 20 or 30 fewer games, that's a few more weeks to gauge the other side's willingness to bend. 

Hopefully, that is not the case and the sides act with urgency. It would do baseball a world of good to have an agreement in place in the next week or two. Build some excitement. Stir some intrigue beyond the financial discussions nobody wants to hear, think, read or write about, especially in 2020.

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Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

The Phillies had a powerhouse offense in 2008. They ranked first in home runs (214), second in runs (4.93 per game) and third in OPS (.770) in the National League that season.

But through the first three games of the NL Division Series that fall, they'd hit just .234 and scored only nine runs. They had won two of those first three games against the Milwaukee Brewers on the strength of their pitchers, who'd held the Brewers to a .198 batting average and seven runs, and a couple of quick-strike big hits, one being Shane Victorino's grand slam against a fatigued CC Sabathia in Game 2.

Looking back, there was some noticeable anxiety around the Phillies before Game 4 of the series, which will be re-aired Thursday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia. The Brewers had won Game 3 in their home park. Another win in Game 4 would make it a whole new series where anything could happen in a winner-take-all Game 5.

In a hallway outside the clubhouse at Miller Park that October day in 2008, a Phillies team official captured the team's anxiety.

"Our hitters are tight as (bleep)," the guy said.

He was right. Phillies hitters needed to relax.

Enter the human chill pill, Jimmy Rollins.

The man who would eventually become the Phillies' all-time hits leader, led off the game with a full-count home run against Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan. Miller Park, previously pulsating with excitement, got so quiet you could almost hear a collective exhale in the Phillies' dugout.

"I can't tell you how big that was to put an early number on the board,'' general manager Pat Gillick said after the game.

The Phillies went on to win the game, 6-2, and the series, three games to one, to earn a spot in the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After the game, a champagne-soaked Rollins basked in the victory and charted a course forward.

"This is one step in the right direction," he said. "We don't think we should be looking at anything less than a World Series. And that's a World Series win. We're geared to win."

Power fueled the Phillies' clinching win in Game 4 of that 2008 NLDS. All six of their runs came on four homers. (They had hit just one homer in the first three games.) In addition to Rollins, the Phillies got a homer from Jayson Werth and a pair of them from Pat Burrell.

Burrell's first homer was a game-changer. It came with two outs in the third inning after the Brewers and Suppan walked Ryan Howard intentionally with a runner on second and first base open. Howard led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBIs that season so walking him was standard play. Burrell made the Brewers pay for the move and his three-run shot gave the Phils a 4-0 lead. Werth immediately followed with a haymaker solo homer and the Phils went up 5-0. Burrell homered again in the eighth to complete his four-RBI day.

Burrell was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft and 2008 was his last season with the club. Though rising stars like Howard, Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels got much of the attention on the '08 club, Burrell was an important complementary player and he went out in style, riding down Broad Street as a World Series champion.

"I couldn't be more thrilled," he said in the clubhouse after his two-homer day in Milwaukee all those years ago.

Another important complementary piece, Joe Blanton, pitched six innings of one-run ball that day for the victory. His contributions, and Burrell's, would continue in the weeks to come. The Phillies punched their ticket to the NLCS with their Game 4 NLDS win in Milwaukee and it all started with Jimmy Rollins's chill-pill leadoff homer.

"That series got our postseason going in '08," Rollins said years later. "We lost the night before and the stadium was so loud with the roof closed and those boom-boom sticks. We didn't want Game 5. We didn't want to face CC Sabathia. Being down 1-0 in the first inning wasn't in their plans."

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