Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Realistic Expectations for Phillies Summer of 2016

From Saturday, April 9th when the Phillies registered their first victory of the 2016 season behind a stellar outing from Vincent Velasquez through Saturday, May 14th when Aaron Nola beat the Cincinnati Reds, the Phils registered a phenomenal 22-11 record.
That stretch of .667 baseball left the club tied for first place in the National League East Division for a few heady hours. There was widespread talk of a possible miracle season.
The formula was often maddening, yet it was just as consistent: great starting pitching, strong relief work, and just enough runs to win the games, often by just a single run.
However, for every fan who dreamed of a worst-to-first campaign, or at worst, a legitimate Wildcard playoff chase, there were others who saw inevitable trouble ahead.
Those were not negativists speaking against contention, they were realists. The fact was that the Phillies entered the season widely predicted to finish at or near the bottom of the overall MLB standings for a second consecutive season.
Teams simply do not overcome such talent evaluations made by educated observers within the industry on that widespread a level.
You are what you are, and unless you flip the script in a major way with injections of talent to the playing lineup, things are not going to change very much from those predictions.
Sure, you can buck the odds for a short time. Every team goes through hot and cold stretches during a season. 
Your team gets hot, starts to believe in itself, then maybe management also buys in, injecting talent from outside via trade. Maybe that props you up enough to stay in the race for most of a season.
But for that to happen, your team probably needs to stay in contention through June, and be hanging around the Wildcard race at the MLB All-Star break.
It does not look as if this group of Phillies is going to be able to extend their own hot streak out that far. 
In fact, it is not very difficult to make the argument that by the end of June, this team will be as buried in the standings as those preseason prognosticators imagined.
Since that surge to the top of the division on May 14th, the Phillies have gone just 4-10. They are now only one game over the .500 mark, and a loss tonight would sink them to that dead-even level for the first time since they were 10-10 on April 26th.
Those prognosticators would, in fact, say that the .286 winning percentage over these last two and a half weeks is likely closer to what we can expect the rest of the summer than even a continued .500 mark.
It won't continue this bad. Last year's club, which finished with 99 losses and the worst overall record in baseball, recorded a .389 winning percentage. This year's team is noticeably better, if only on the pitching mound.
Back on April 4th in my "Phillies 2016: Editor's Prediction" piece at TBOH, I called the Phils as a 75-win team this season that would indeed surprise - but only to the point of finishing in 3rd place, ahead of the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves.
Sticking with that prediction would mean that from here on out, the Phillies would go 49-62, which would be a .441 winning percentage over the course of the summer.
Now that is cheating just a wee bit, since summer doesn't officially start for nearly three more weeks. But with Memorial Day weekend in our rearview mirror, considered the "unofficial start to summer" by most folks, I'll stand with the prediction.
No matter how long this current cold stretch goes on, it will end, and the club will level off a bit at some point. But fans should not expect to see them play at that earlier .667 pace again over another month.


Playing at a .441 percentage over the rest of the summer, which is what I predict will happen, gives the club a final 75-87 record. They will be able to look back at the end and know that had a half-dozen games turned differently, they could have been a .500 team.
That is where we will begin in 2017, with a team legitimately looking at their first winning season since 2011. It should indeed be an expectation next year. There should be enough infusion of real talent to manager Pete Mackanin's everyday lineup to make that a legitimate goal.
The position player core of Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera may still see Tyler Goeddel added to their number from those presently with the team, but no other current Phils' regular figures to remain in the lineup when the club emerges again as a winner.
For this summer, fans should definitely temper any playoff expectations while continuing to watch solid performances from the young pitchers, both starters and relievers.
Fans should also continue to monitor the minor leagues for the development of the best position players: J.P. CrawfordNick Williams, and Jorge Alfaro in particular.
Getting Williams and Crawford to Philly at some point this summer is a realistic possibility. 
I believe that you will see Williams first, possibly by or just after the All-Star break. Crawford has begun slowly at AAA, and unless he heats up and stays hot, it may be September before we see him.
Also this summer, we will see more good young pitching come from the minor leagues. Adam Morgan appears to be one or two more bad outings away from a demotion, with Zach EflinAlec Asher, and Jake Thompson all pushing hard for the next shot at the big leagues.
That was always what this 2016 season was supposed to be about, watching some of the younger players continue to develop, enjoying beautiful Citizens Bank Park, the excitement of the first overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft, and following those minors intently for the kids to come.
And that, as it turns out, is exactly what this summer is going to be all about. Not some miracle, magical playoff run. No, that won't be happening. But better than last year, with legitimate hope for next.

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