Phillies

Why Gabe Kapler opted against sitting struggling Rhys Hoskins Wednesday

Why Gabe Kapler opted against sitting struggling Rhys Hoskins Wednesday

Gabe Kapler considered sitting Rhys Hoskins on Wednesday night but opted against it after having a conversation with his struggling first baseman.

Hoskins is 12 for his last 100. His batting average has dipped 30 points in 31 days. On Tuesday night, he dropped a catchable ball at first base which led to the Pirates' game-winning run in the ninth inning. It was the second time this season that a muffed catch on a standard play at first base by Hoskins helped lead to the Phillies' demise. It also happened in the fifth game of the season in D.C. when Hoskins couldn't handle a routine ball at first base and it tied the game in the bottom of the eighth.

Kapler was asked Tuesday night whether the error was an example of Hoskins' slump at the plate carrying into the field. It was asked whether the miscue was symbolic of Hoskins' being beaten-down mentally.

Hoskins was adamant after Tuesday's loss that a day off would serve little purpose. He said there's no time for it in a playoff race. 

After reporters left the Phillies' clubhouse, Kapler had a similar conversation with Hoskins.

"The first question basically I wanted to get answered was, 'Do you think a day off could help you?' The answer to that question was a pretty strong no," Kapler said.

"I went back and looked at his at-bats from last night, looked at how his body's been moving over the last couple weeks. He looks pretty fresh physically. There's no question in my mind and I acknowledge that it's been a grind for him mentally. But I always like having Rhys Hoskins in the lineup and always like having him in the top five spots in the lineup. Given the fact that he feels pretty strongly that he should be in the lineup and performing for us, we're aligned and that was enough."

Hoskins was moved down in the order from the leadoff spot to cleanup. It is in that spot where Hoskins has had his most success. As a cleanup hitter, Hoskins has hit .265/.401/.558 with 49 of his 77 career home runs.

"It's certainly natural for him to be in a run-producing spot," Kapler said. "When he is his most natural, he's a really, really good hitter. We're trying to create that natural feel for him."

The other aspect of this is giving a player an immediate chance to get right after a rough game. You don't want that error lingering in Hoskins' head for 48 hours if there's a chance to get him back in the field, making assists and putouts a night later.

Kapler compared it to getting a closer a second chance one night after blowing a save. We have seen that work multiple times with Hector Neris. Neris has five blown saves this season and after three of them, he came in the next night to pick up a save or a win.

"Yes, yes," Kapler said when asked if there's value in getting a guy right back out there. "It's very similar to the value you get after a closer comes in and gives up a big home run, or you strike out with the bases loaded. 

"It demonstrates a confidence level in the player. And I've had a lot of conversations recently with players about how important it is to instill that confidence, getting it from the manager, getting it from the coaches and your teammates.

"Oftentimes, you'll see an infielder make an error, and if the pitcher is on point and is a good teammate, he'll say the ball's coming right back at you and we want you to have that opportunity again. And what does the infielder feel in that moment? He feels like, 'Yeah, (expletive) yeah, I want that ball hit at me.' So I think there's a tremendous amount of value to getting him right back out on the horse."

The fact remains that, despite the prolonged slump, Hoskins is one of the Phillies' best hitters. His 25 home runs this season, 59 homers the last two seasons and .378 on-base percentage on the year are not negated by a bad month. These last 100 at-bats do not carry more predictive meaning just because they are Hoskins' most recent 100 at-bats. 

Sitting Hoskins and giving Logan Morrison four plate appearances is no lock to make the Phillies a better offensive team Wednesday night, and getting Hoskins right carries more big-picture importance than seeing if Morrison can go deep in consecutive games.

The Phillies have no choice but to ride it out with Hoskins and remain hopeful that he can get hot again like he has all three years of his major-league career. 

Perspective is important. We're still talking about a guy whose OPS is 17 percent better than the league average even after one of the coldest months you'll see a power hitter have.

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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 add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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