Rhys Hoskins relaxes, changes swing and may have taken first step toward snapping out of it

Rhys Hoskins relaxes, changes swing and may have taken first step toward snapping out of it

Ya think Rhys Hoskins needed a game like this?

Hoskins, who had two extra-base hits in his last 80 plate appearances entering the series finale against the Pirates, had a stand-up triple in his first at-bat Wednesday and an RBI double in his second. 

Those were two of the Phillies' eight extra-base hits in a lopsided 12-3 win over lowly Pittsburgh. Finally, they overpowered a weak team, the way they were unable to do against the White Sox, Padres and Marlins earlier this month.

Hoskins was a candidate to get the night off Wednesday. It would have been a natural time for it with the Phillies off Thursday. Manager Gabe Kapler could have sat Hoskins to give him 48 full hours off his feet and to clear his head. Instead, he had a talk with Hoskins and decided to keep him in the lineup when the player was adamant he didn't need a blow.

It paid off. Hoskins got to move on quickly from the costly error he made in Tuesday night's loss, and he found success with a more simplified approach.

"I was joking with somebody, I think the only thing I did different today was get a haircut," Hoskins said, before explaining what he did do differently Wednesday night.

"I think I was a little bit more narrow at the plate, almost trying to swing 80 percent. I've really tried to be boring in BP the last week or so. I guess tonight was just the night it seemed to click in a game."

More narrow?

"Just my stance, really trying to control the weight distribution in my legs. Just really trying to be aware of where the barrel is. Some guys — guys in this clubhouse and around the league — can swing as hard as they can and still know where (the barrel) is. I've found that throughout my short career, that usually is not the case (for me). Really tried to settle down even more than usual and it got me back to where I needed to be."

Hoskins' leadoff triple in the second inning was to the opposite field, a rarity of late. It was a promising sign. He has always been a pull-heavy hitter but it's gotten even more exaggerated this summer, with Hoskins crushing so many pitches left of the foul pole and popping up more than ever before. He had 12 hits in his last 100 at-bats entering Wednesday's game and many Phillies fans were wondering if or when the worm would turn for Hoskins, whose power and offensive effectiveness did not suddenly disappear in mid-July.

"I thought he made good decisions and seemed like he was on the fastball all night," Kapler said. "The other thing I noticed was how relaxed his body language was and facial expression was, particularly when he got to two strikes. We talked earlier in the day about sprinters — I think if you watch a sprinter in slow motion, you kinda see their face looks like jelly because they're so relaxed. It really looked like Rhys had a lot of weight lifted off his shoulders today. Even from the first at-bat, just comfortable and relaxed at the plate. You could see it from the dugout.

"I think he probably made a conscious decision to stay relaxed."

If you've watched the Phillies this season, you've likely noticed the violent swings taken by Bryce Harper. You've likely noticed the ABs when Hoskins has appeared to grip the bat as tightly as possible. Those are signs of pressing, trying to do too much, trying to hit a ball 500 feet. 

Relaxation has always been a key for hitters. A looser grip can create more bat speed and barrel accuracy. Sometimes it's easier said than done.

Confidence is another major key. Hoskins and the Phillies gained some on Wednesday night. Yes, the 2019 Pirates stink. But this was a teamwide onslaught, and these same eight hitters, in order, will likely make up the lineup Friday night when the Mets are in town.

J.T. Realmuto homered, tripled and singled. Corey Dickerson homered. Cesar Hernandez had three hits, two of which were doubles. Harper reached base three times, singling twice. Adam Haseley had a pair of hits and drove in two runs.

"Offensively, I thought we were really aggressive. We knew we had a young guy on the mound and I thought we attacked him from the get-go," Hoskins said. "Put them on their heels a little bit and we never let up."

The Phillies are 69-63 with 30 games to play. They are two games behind the Cubs, 1½ games ahead of the Brewers and two ahead of the Mets, who followed five straight wins with five straight losses.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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