Posted on March 26, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s been six years since the Philadelphia Phillies last made the playoffs. But after years of rebuilding, they finally look ready to start working their way back up the pecking order in the NL East. The club even signed a couple big free agents this winter to help supplement their young talent. So, just how good can the Phillies be in 2018?
The Phillies made a huge addition to their starting rotation late in the offseason when they signed Jake Arrieta. With Arrieta, the Phillies have the bonafide ace they were missing despite collecting a large amount of pitching talent during the rebuilding process. There are a couple of questions about Arrieta after a rough first half in 2017, but the Phillies shouldn’t be too worried about him being able to lead their rotation.
Of course, there’s a little uncertainty regarding the rest of Philadelphia’s rotation, especially considering how young they are. On top of that, Jerad Eickhoff will miss at least the first month of the season. That will force the likes of Aaron Nola and Ben Lively to pitch at a high level to help complement Arrieta. Of course, Nola is just 24 despite having 60 big league starts under his belt while Lively has just 15 career starts to his name despite pitching well for the Phillies last year.
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Even with Arrieta and Nola likely being reliable at the top of the rotation, the Phillies will still need a few of their young starters to take a step forward. The likes of Vince Velasquez, Nick Pievetta, and Zach Efflin were all below-average starters last year despite having the talent to be much better in 2018. But if some of those younger pitchers don’t show some improvement, the addition of Arrieta may not make Philadelphia’s rotation much better than last season.
The Philadelphia bullpen is also in a position to show some improvement from last season. Hector Neris has solidified a job as the team’s closer after saving 26 games in 29 opportunities last year. Luis Garcia has a chance to be the team’s primary setup man after a stellar season in 2017, posting a 2.65 ERA that went largely unnoticed around the league.
The Phillies also have a little depth and experience in the back end of their bullpen in the form of Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. Hunter has quietly become one of the league’s most consistent setup men over the past few years. Meanwhile, Neshek is still going strong at 37 years old after posting a 1.59 ERA in 2017. Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos were also solid relief options last year and should help give the Phillies a bullpen that’s at least middle of the pack in the National League this year.
Offensively, the Phillies are hoping their young talent can lead the way. Center fielder Odubel Herrera has been steady offensively the past two seasons, producing an OPS around .780 both years. Meanwhile, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr, and Nick Williams all enjoyed breakout seasons last year, giving the Phillies at least three options at the two corner outfield spots.
In the infield, the time has come for J.P. Crawford to realize his potential. The 23-year old struggled a bit last year in his first taste of the big leagues, but he’ll get another crack to play every day in 2018. The Phillies also need Maikel Franco to bounce back after an endlessly disappointing campaign in 2017. Of course, the Phillies did well to sign Carlos Santana over the winter, giving their young lineup a veteran presence and a hitter they know will produce at a high level. However, it’ll still be up to the young players around him to make the Phillies a team that can consistently score runs.
This appears to be the year that the Phillies finally show tangible signs of progress. They made two major free agent signings over the winter and their young players are one year closer to fulfilling their potential. However, while there is plenty of potential on the roster, the team’s young players still have a lot of questions to answer. Look for the Phillies to finish 76-86, a 10-win improvement from last season. Things are looking up in the city of brotherly love, but the Phillies aren’t a playoff contender just yet.