Phillies

So ... what answers DID the Phillies get this season?

So ... what answers DID the Phillies get this season?

Updated: 9:52 p.m.

A common refrain from Phillies fans lately is that, despite the win increase of at least a dozen this season, just as many questions remain this offseason as last.

It's the truth. No aspect of this team looks settled. Not the offense, not the defense, not the rotation, not the bullpen.

That being said ... what answers did we get in 2018? (Other than the most obvious one: Nola is an ace. He showed it again Saturday night with seven shutout innings against the Braves. Nola finishes 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA in 212⅓ innings.)

1. Can't have both Velasquez and Pivetta in the rotation

Unless the Phillies have designs of utilizing the "opener" next season — a pitcher who starts the game for matchup purposes but only goes an inning or two — they cannot afford to enter 2019 with both Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta in the rotation.

Both pitchers have big strikeout stuff, but neither has been consistent enough going deep into games or adjusting midway through an outing. It's evident in the massive dropoffs in their numbers as they go through a lineup multiple times.

Gabe Kapler recently supported both pitchers by mentioning their respectable FIPs. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. It is a number on the ERA scale that rids a pitcher of everything except strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.

It is an incomplete metric. Yes, Kapler and many others can say that it's a better estimate of future production than ERA, but the issue with FIP is that it treats all non-home runs the same. A 400-foot triple is the same as a groundout to second base. The idea that a pitcher cannot control where or how hard a non-home run is hit is kind of ridiculous. 

Think about how many times this season we've seen Velasquez or Pivetta fall apart in an inning and allow multiple well-struck line drives back up the middle. To claim those balls in play were out of their control just because they involved defenders touching the ball? Poppycock.

Pivetta, at this point, has more potential to stick as a starter than Velasquez. Velasquez has made 76 career starts and has a 4.50 ERA with an average of 5.0 innings per start. The sample size is no longer small.

2. This isn't the right outfield

Between 2014 and 2015, the Phillies prioritized outfield defense after watching Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche give away too many extra bases. 

In the span of four years, they've come full circle, with the outfield defense again a big concern. 

Odubel Herrera regressed defensively. We know Rhys Hoskins is not a left fielder. Aaron Altherr, their most instinctive outfielder not named Roman Quinn, struggled so much offensively that he was unusable as the summer wore on.

Unless Herrera hits to make up for the defense, you can't rely on him as the everyday centerfielder. Too many mental mistakes, too many weak throws, too many extra bases taken on medium-deep fly balls to center.

Bryce Harper or not, the Phillies should have two new regular outfielders next season, with Quinn starting in center as long as he's healthy.

3. Time to move on from 3 recent staples

Herrera, Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco could all be gone this offseason. 

The Phillies essentially spelled the impending end of Hernandez's tenure here when they signed Scott Kingery to a long-term contract. It is doubtful the Phillies enter 2019 with Kingery as the everyday shortstop. His arm probably isn't suited for third base, and second is his natural position. Can only keep so many infielders.

As for Franco, we did see offensive improvement this season. But that's kind of the reason it's time to move on. Franco's trade value will be a lot higher this winter than it was last winter when he was coming off a .230/.281/.409 this season. Franco this season has hit .270/.314/.467.

He's 26 years old and cost-controlled, so the Phillies should be able to get something of substance in return for Franco — perhaps a starting pitcher. 

Aside from the "sell-high" aspect of a Franco trade, the Phillies could turn to Carlos Santana at 3B next season. Santana has fielded his position adequately there, making his first error Saturday in 109 innings at 3B. If the Phils end up signing Harper — a possibility but far from a certainty — the adjustment could be Hoskins to first base, Santana to third and Harper in the corner outfield.

When this topic has been brought up, some fans have claimed that Franco is a better player than Santana. Just not the case, even though Santana entered Saturday night with a .227 batting average. Santana has better at-bats, a better approach, a longer track record of power, and he's under contract the next two seasons for a total of $35 million.

What makes more sense: Eating money to trade Santana for little to nothing in return, or selling high on Franco, who showed improvement but is not essential to this team's ascent? Franco also has a body type that traditionally does not age well in baseball.

If Franco and Herrera are indeed back next season, showing up in spring training in better physical shape is a necessity.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman break down potential compromises between MLB players and owners to get a deal done and baseball back on our screens.

• Gut-feelings/educated guesses: Will there be a 2020 MLB season?

• How can these sides stop circling around each other and find a compromise?

• Ideas for a pay structure.

• What would a 50-game or 60-game season look like schedule-wise?

• Phillies and other clubs hemorrhaging money right now.

• Memories from next week's classic Phillies-Dodgers NLCS re-air.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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