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2018 NL East preview: Phillies trying to claw out of basement as rebuild continues

Phillies look to take step forward in rebuild.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Would you believe me if I told you the Phillies had the worst record in baseball over the last five years? It’s true. With a mark of 346-464, no one has been worse. And similar to the Braves, the Phillies appear to be nearing the end of their rebuild.

Atlanta’s and Philly’s rosters aren’t too far off at this point. Most projections have the clubs winning 75 games or so (PECOTA actually has the Phillies winning 78 and finishing 3rd in the East). Both should have pretty decent lineups — I’d give Philly the advantage until Ronald Acuna debuts — although the Braves’ pitching staff is better as a whole.

It would take something bizarre happening for the Phillies to contend with the Nationals in the East, although they could push for a .500 season if a few things break right. That would be a considerable improvement for a club that only won 66 games last year.

Philadelphia made the most surprising signing of the offseason when they inked Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal in December. Santana is remarkably steady and consistent at the plate (his wRC+ has been between 117 and 132 in all but one season since 2011) although he will turn 32 in April and will no longer be able to DH. His signing certainly helps the lineup in the short-term. Here’s a look at the rest of the team:


Cesar Hernandez (2B), J.P. Crawford (SS), Nick Williams (RF), Rhys Hoskins (LF), Carlos Santana (1B), Odubel Herrera (CF), Maikel Franco (3B), Jorge Alfaro (C)

2017 ranks: 27th in runs, 26th in wRC+, 26th in WAR

Rhys Hoskins came out of nowhere last year and absolutely mashed for a month before finally tailing off. He smacked 18 homers in 50 games and posted a 158 wRC+. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to big league pitching in his first full campaign. Steamer has him projected for a healthy 127 wRC+.

The issue is that there isn’t much else to get excited about outside of Hoskins and Santana. A lineup featuring Hernandez (projected 93 wRC+), Crawford (87), Williams (90), Herrera (96), Franco (100) and Alfaro (80) has obvious limitations. They’re going to need someone like Herrera or Franco to take that next step if they really want to break through.

Rotation and bullpen

Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively; Hector Neris figures to close.

2017 ranks: 17th in ERA, 18th in FIP, 15th in WAR

Nola is one of the league’s most underrated starters and was excellent last year (3.27 FIP, 4.2 WAR). The issue is that there isn’t much behind him. Steamer projects Eickoff for a 4.9 ERA and FIP over 160 innings, while Velasquez has battled injuries throughout his first two years in the bigs. Pivetta had a 6.02 ERA (4.87 FIP) across 26 starts last year; Steamer actually projects him to be the club’s second-best starter and he does have some upside. Lively will be in a battle for the 5th spot and struggled as a rookie in 2017.

The Phillies had a pretty decent bullpen last year (15th in ERA, 14th in FIP, 12th in WAR) and re-signed Pat Neshek to help out in the later innings. Neris is filthy in the 9th inning. If the starters can get a lead into the late innings, they should be able to hold on. Getting 6+ innings regularly out of the starters not named Aaron Nola will be a challenge, though.

Final thoughts: The Phillies are still a few years away, although they should be younger and more fun to watch than the past couple teams. They’ve done a nice job setting themselves up for the future by rebuilding the farm and clearing some awful contracts. The lineup could be pretty decent with Hoskins and Santana providing some thud, but the rotation figures to struggle behind Nola. They seem likely to battle the Braves for 3rd in the division.

Projected finish: 4th in the East

*Lineup and rotation projections via Rotochamp

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