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.

Monday, May 30, 2016

MLB Power Ranking: Memorial Day 2016

A month ago when the first Power Ranking was released the surprising Philadelphia Phillies were in the #9 slot.
Unfortunately, a recent stretch of losing baseball in which the club has dropped three straight series has left them off the latest ranking.
Frankly, I would be surprised to see them return to the Top 10 teams in Major League Baseball again this season. 
But then, I would never have anticipated when the year began that we would have seen them on it at all in 2016.
The 10-6 spots this time around are listed here, and the Top 5 presented in the slideshow by clicking on the link at the bottom of this piece. That is the format that I will use to present each Power Ranking for the rest of the season.

Here are the teams in my 10-6 slots on this Memorial Day:

10. TORONTO BLUE JAYS: at 26-26 the Jays are in 3rd place in the AL East, five games back of the front-runners. They may be heating up, however. The Jays had a four game win streak, and won 7 of 9, before dropping yesterday’s decision to Boston.
9. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS: the Cards have just a pair of winning streaks all season, and have fallen 9.5 games back in the NL Central race. However, they are just 3 back in the NL Wildcard battle. The key for the Redbirds will be putting a legitimate run of victories together.
8. PITTSBURGH PIRATES: the Bucs are tied as an NL Wildcard team, 3 ahead of the Cards. But they are 6.5 behind the division leaders. It looks as if the Bucs will have to settle for one of those Wildcards once again, which means another single elimination win-or-go-home game in early October, assuming they get there.
7. BOSTON RED SOX: the Bosox have bolted out to the American League’s best record, third best in baseball, and lead the AL East by one game. Boston is just 6-6 over their last dozen games, however, and just yesterday put an end to their first losing streak since mid-April.
6. CLEVELAND INDIANS: the Tribe were swept in Philly, and following the third of those defeats sat at 10-12 on May 1st. But a hot month blasted them up the AL Central standings. They now sit at 26-22, just a half game back, going 16-10 over the last four weeks.
READ ORIGINAL article at That Ball's Outta Here for full Power Ranking story

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Adam Morgan on Borrowed Time

When he was called up from the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs back in late April to take the place of the injured Charlie Morton in the starting rotation, Adam Morgan became the only left-hander in that rotation.
It seemed like a good development. Not the Morton injury, of course, but that the Phillies could reach into their minor league system and replace him with somehow who not only could fill the role competitively, but who also provided that lefty option in a rotation stocked with right-handers.
A year ago, Morgan finally made his big league debut after battling injuries through parts of five minor league seasons after the Phillies had made him their 3rd round selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Alabama.
In his minor league time, Morgan went 14-29 with a 3.54 ERA, allowing 369 hits over 376.2 innings with a 322/110 K:BB ratio.
With the addition of Morton and Jeremy Hellickson to the rotation this past off-season, and with young incumbents Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff virtually penned into the 2016 rotation, Morgan appeared to be battling Brett Oberholtzer for the lone left-handed starter role back in spring training.
However, both were passed by newcomer Vincent Velasquez, who dominated the Grapefruit League, sending Oberholtzer to the bullpen due to the fact that he had no minor league options left.
Morgan on the other hand did have options, and so was sent back to Lehigh Valley. There he went 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA, allowing 19 hits over 17.2 innings with a 20/4 K:BB ratio.
When Morton went down, Morgan was the logical choice to replace him, and frankly had earned the opportunity.
Flash forward a full month, and Morgan is blowing that golden opportunity to solidify a place in the Phillies rebuilding future, at least as a regular in the big league rotation.
Morgan simply cannot seem to put together strong consecutive outings. Since striking out seven and allowing five hits over five solid innings in his first start of the season, he has failed to reach the 5th inning in every other alternating start.
He lasted just four innings in his next outing at Saint Louis, allowing three earned runs on six hits and two walks. Morgan followed that up with his best start, allowing one earned on just four hits over a seven inning effort at Atlanta.
The very next start, Morgan was bombed for seven earned runs on eight hits and three walks over just 3.2 innings at home against the Reds. That was followed by a six inning outing in which he yielded just two earned and four hits against the Braves.

Then came yesterday, and his shelling at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. Morgan allowed six earned on eight hits over just four innings. Up, down. Up, down. That is now developing as the Morgan pattern. Consistently inconsistent.
Perhaps a year ago, the Phillies could have lived with this, and given the now 26-year old a much longer leash. However, we are a year further along in the club's rebuilding plan. There are other options now, and they are coming fast.
22-year old righty Zach Eflin is now 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA at AAA, and looking more dominant with each outing. He has allowed just 34 hits over 52.2 innings across eight starts with a 45/8 K:BB ratio.
The club's top-ranked pitching prospect is another 22-year old right-hander, Jake Thompson. He is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA and has allowed 44 hits over 51.2 innings with a 40/16 K:BB and has been looking better with each start.
24-year old Ben Lively began the season by dominating at AA Reading, and has just earned a promotion to Lehigh Valley where he was strong in his first AAA start just last night. He is going to be ready for his shot in Philly soon if these types of outings continue.
Alec Asher, a 24-year old righty who looked entirely overmatched in a cameo with the Phillies at the end of last season, has been born again hard back in the minors.
Asher began the year with AA Reading, pitched well, and was promoted to Lehigh Valley. He has a combined 4-2 mark with a 2.30 ERA, allowing just 39 hits over 54.2 innings and could be the first to get an opportunity.
There is an even more interesting option, should the Phillies choose to exercise it at some point. Former reliever James Russell is being given an opportunity to start. The lefty allowed just one hit in four shutout innings, striking out four and walking no one in his first start a week ago.
The point is that the Phillies have good options ready to step up and take advantage of their own opportunity when called upon.
Morgan would be scheduled to take the mound next on Wednesday at home against the division-rival Washington Nationals. The odds are that he gets to make that start.
He is a starter, that much appears certain for now. He has the repertoire, and he has the experience. He could re-emerge as a lefty relief option, but it is probably too soon to go in that direction.
The club has other options in the pen, including a nearly ready lefty reliever in the rehabbing Mario Hollands
If demoted, Morgan is going to have to return to AAA and either re-establish himself as a consistent starter, waiting for another shot, or re-invent himself as a valuable lefty relief option.
But the odds are strong that, barring a sudden run of consistently solid performances, Morgan is living on borrowed big league time, at least as a starting pitcher.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Phils Fans Back Odubel Herrera Benching

It was the top of the 7th inning in Monday night's Interleague series opener between the visiting Phillies and the host Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
The score was knotted at 4-4 between the two clubs, but the Phillies were threatening thanks to some shoddy Detroit defense.
Leadoff man Peter Bourjos had reached 1st base thanks to an error by Tigers' 3rd baseman Nick Castellanos.
That brought the Phils' hot leadoff hitter, center fielder Odubel Herrera, to the plate. Bourjos then advanced to 2nd base thanks to a wild pitch thrown by Tigers' relief pitcher Justin Wilson.
So the Phillies had the go-ahead runner at 2nd base with nobody out. On a 1-2 pitch, "El Torito' bounced a grounder weakly back at Wilson.
Herrera started down the line towards 1st base, but clearly frustrated at his inability to produce in the clutch situation, he shut it down, half-heartedly plodding the rest of the way to the bag.
As Herrera did so, it turns out that Wilson double-clutched his throw to 1st base. Herrera would have almost certainly have been safe as a result, had he only ran the ball out at normal full speed.
The lack of hustle meant that instead of runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out, the Phils had the runner at 2nd with one out.
On his return to the dugout, Herrera was approached by veteran Ryan Howard regarding that failure to hustle. Manager Pete Mackanin also got involved in calling out his 24-year old center fielder.
The Phillies would fail to score in the inning, and when the team took the field for the bottom of the 7th, Herrera was no longer in the lineup.
Immediately there was speculation ringing out from the radio waves, where announcer Scott Franzke mentioned an incident earlier in the game where Herrera might have been signaling to 3rd base coach Juan Samuel that he had suffered some type of injury to his back.
Across social media the reaction was swift: Herrera had clearly dogged it. If it was a lack of hustle and nothing more, that was one thing. If it turned out to be an injury, and the team knew he was hurt, then why was he still in the game? The Tigers would win the game by a single run, 5-4.
Quickly following the game, Mackanin dispelled any though of an injury. “He didn’t run, said the skipper per MLB.com’s Kyle Beery.
One of the ingredients to our success, to this point, is the fact that these guys play with energy, they play hard. We’re training them, basically, to play the game the right way, and not running is not the right way.” ~ Mackanin
Mackanin went on to point out that he has seen this from Herrera on other occasions: “I’ve seen it in the past, and it’s been trickling in, and I just didn’t like it, and I just made the decision,” he said per Beery.
So at Twitter, I chose to poll the Phillies fans who are TBOH followers, asking whether those fans supported the pulling of Herrera from the lineup in such a public way as a disciplinary measure.
The results have proven conclusive. After more than 2,500 "impressions", 120 total "engagements", and 95 actual votes as of 5:25pm on Tuesday, 75% of the fans voting supported the disciplinary benching.
Mackanin has a young team on his hands, and even younger players on the way as the Phillies rebuilding program continues.
Earlier in the game, starting pitcher Vincent Velasquez had exhibited his own petulant attitude. Mackanin has to drill it into his young charges heads that they have to play the game not only with passion, but also with hustle and pride, never taking anything for granted.
"You've got to keep going. I know it's not the at-bat he wanted, or whatever, but look at me, I'm still grinding," Howard said per Beery. "You never know on a ball like that, he might mess up because you're running hard."
Wilson did indeed mess up, and Herrera's failure to hustle may have cost the Phillies a key game at the start of what looks to be a difficult road trip.
Even if you don't buy into that play being a game decider, you have to agree that a lackadaisical attitude is nothing that Mackanin can allow to continue. Three out of four of our voting followers would then agree with you.
Herrera knows he was wrong. As quoted at CSN Philly:
"I was frustrated. I respect his decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes, and it won't happen again. I didn't think he was going to bench me. I understand why. I can't argue."
Mackanin believes the message is sent, and Herrera will be back in the Phillies' starting lineup on Wednesday night.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pharm Report: AA Reading Fightins

The Phillies ‘AA’ level minor league club, the Reading Fightin' Phils, have bolted out to a first place lead in the Eastern Division of the Eastern League.
The Fightin' Phils are 29-14, on a four game winning streak which has them 2.5 games up on the Hartford Yard Goats farm team of the Colorado Rockies organization.
This is the 50th anniversary of the Phillies relationship with the city of Reading, Pennsylvania, and the franchise is celebrating all year long with various events and giveaway items.
The timing couldn't be better for the fans pouring into FirstEnergy Stadium. The Fightin' Phils have a talented ball club with some exciting prospects.
Manager Dusty Wathan's squad just suffered a personnel loss, the type which minor league affiliate clubs are all too familiar with.
The Phillies top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, began his season with Reading. Crawford was hitting .265 with a .398 on-base percentage, 23 runs scored, and five stolen bases when he was promoted over the weekend to the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Remaining at Reading to lead the offense are a trio of interesting hitters, the best of whom is catcher Jorge Alfaro.

The soon-to-be 23-year old Alfaro got off to a torrid start, but then missed a few weeks early on with an oblique injury. Since returning a couple of weeks ago he has continued to rake.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pharm Report: High-A Clearwater Threshers

The Phillies ‘High-A’ level minor league club, the Clearwater Threshers, currently find themselves in first place in the Florida State (FSL) League standings in the North Division.
The Threshers are 26-16, which has them a half-game up on the Tampa Yankees at the top of the standings, though the club has lost their last two games.
Manager Greg Legg was drafted as a player by the Phillies in the 22nd round of the 1982 MLB Amateur Draft out of Oklahoma State University.
Legg made 22 plate appearances in the big leagues with the Phils across eight games as a utility infielder in the 1986 and 1987 seasons, so he is very familiar with the dreams of his young charges.
The Threshers recently got a bump in their lineup with the injury rehabilitation of Phillies' utility player veteran Cody Asche, who is working his way back from an oblique injury.
Asche has hit just .167 over his first 18 at-bats while playing exclusively in left field. Jordan Hall with CSNPhilly.com quoted Asche just this past Monday on his position switch last year from 3rd base to the outfield.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pharm Report: Low-A Lakewood BlueClaws

The Phillies 'Low-A' level minor league club, the Lakewood BlueClaws, currently find themselves at the bottom of the South Atlantic (SAL) League standings in the North Division.
The BlueClaws are 16-24, which has them tied with the Marlins' affiliates in Greensboro for last place. Both teams trail the first place Hagerstown Suns (Nationals) by 10.5 games already.
Manager Shawn Williams' club has been hurt by the struggles of one of the Phillies top minor league pitching prospects at the lower levels, right-hander Franklyn Kilome.
Kilome thus far has an 0-4 record with a 7.30 ERA and a 1.99 WHIP. He has allowed 34 hits in 24.2 innings with a 25/15 K:BB ratio across his first half-dozen starts.
Named as our #7 Phillies prospect over at TBOH during the preseason, Kilome had a solid season a year ago with short-season Williamsport as a 20-year old during which he saw a major uptick in his fastball, leading to the lofty ranking.
Kilome struggled mightily with command and control issues during the season's opening month. In April, the righty went 0-3 with a 15.83 ERA and walked 10 batters over his first 9.1 innings.
However, things may finally be coming together for the high-ceiling pitcher who is now 21 years old.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Phillies Promote Top Prospect J.P. Crawford to AAA

The Phillies announced this morning that top prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford has been promoted to the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
The move means that the club feels he is ready for the finishing stage of his minor league development, and puts him just a step away from the big leagues.
Crawford was hitting for a .265/.398/.390 slash line with three homers, 13 RBI, 23 runs scored, eight doubles, and five stolen bases over 166 plate appearances in 36 games with the AA Reading Fightin' Phils this season.
We see that he’s doing things the right way; he’s progressing the right way,” Reading manager Dusty Wathan said prior to the announcement per Philly.com's Matt Breen. “We’re really happy with what’s going on. He’s a young player, one of the youngest guys in this league. And he’s playing great.”
Crawford got to experience his first extended taste in a big league environment when he was invited to spring training earlier this year for the first time. Over 11 games in the Grapefruit League, Crawford hit just .150 and scored four runs.
Just a few weeks ago, Crawford was asked about a possible promotion to AAA by Andrew Kulp of The 700 Level: