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Paying the Price - A Philadelphia Phillies preview

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A look ahead at our final new opponent of the 2016 season

On a scale of one to ten, that cheek is Sammy Sosa.
On a scale of one to ten, that cheek is Sammy Sosa.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Ruben Amaro Jr. became the Philadelphia Phillies' general manager on November 1, 2008. It was an absolutely great time to have the job. The Phillies had just won the World Series, were blessed with an excellent core of players, and even had some spending flexibility. The team would go on to win the NL East for the next three seasons before beginning their current fade in 2012. From 2009 through 2011, Amaro succeeded in putting a great product on the field.

Because he couldn't fail.

Breaking in a new GM in a situation like the one into which the Phillies promoted Amaro can be very dangerous. There's time to do all sorts of damage to the organization before the bleeding shows up in the win column, the revenue column, or the fan confidence column. The Phillies are still feeling the sting of trading Carlos Carrasco (and others) for Cliff Lee at the 2009 trade deadline, then flipping Lee that winter for three players that have accumulated -2.1 WAR in the major leagues. They're finally about to get out from under Ryan Howard's completely unnecessary 5-year, $125 million extension for 2012-2016 (during which time Howard has amassed -4.3 WAR) that was signed in April, 2010. Player development was weak for years, in part because Amaro eschewed analytics in favor of....some other player-evaluation method, I guess?

In 2010, GM Ruben Amaro boasted, "We don't have an in-house stats guy, and I kind of feel we never will. We're not a statistics-driven organization by any means."

Amaro was mercifully fired in September of 2015.
Shortly after, the Phillies hired Matt Klentak to pick up the pieces and turn around a woefully misguided organization. Klentak executed two significant moves this offseason. The first was trading for a year of Jeremy Hellickson to eat innings as the Phillies' younger pitchers gain experience. The second was essentially trading away relief ace Ken Giles for starting pitcher Vince Velasquez. Velasquez's electric stuff was one of the best stories of the early part of this season, particularly after he threw a complete-game, 16-strikeout shutout in his second start against the Padres. He features a four-pitch mix that generates whiffs across the board and centers around a mid-90's heater. Velasquez has comparatively struggled in the second half, however, with back-to-back three-homer starts in August.

The Phillies' rotation took a hit when Aaron Nola was lost for the year in the middle of a breakout season, so there's been a lack of electric pitchers behind Velasquez. Righty Jerad Eickhoff has been the best of the rest as a consistent innings-muncher that's a little above-average. Eickhoff has a hittable low-90s fastball and a legitimately tough curveball. The slider's just as good as the curve at generating whiffs, but he has a greater tendency to get himself in trouble by hanging it.

The active Philadelphia starting staff is rounded out by Jake Thompson and Adam Morgan. Thompson is a legitimate prospect and scouts rave about his slider. He's had a rough introduction to the majors thus far; control has been a problem and his main non-slider offerings have been punished. Thompson's pedigree suggests the Phillies will give him plenty of time to work things out, but his low strikeout rate at Triple-A Lehigh registers as a concern. Morgan is a soft-tossing lefty trying to make ends meet after numerous shoulder problems. Zone him in, reel him in, and light him up.

On the whole, the Phillies' pitching staff has been okay, but their offense has been just brutal. There's a couple black holes in the lineup (looking at you, Freddy Galvis), but their biggest problem is a lack of stars. The best hitter has probably been catcher Cameron Rupp, who's hit for a surprising amount of power this season. He also has a cannon from behind the dish, so runners beware. Switch-hitting leadoff man Cesar Hernandez has been a nice source of OBP and leads the majors in triples. Between Hernandez and Galvis, the Phillies have a strong defense in the middle infield.

Elsewhere, Maikel Franco has failed to build on his breakout 2015, largely due to BABIP luck. He's a good source of power and leads the Phillies in home runs. The other exciting position-player holdover from 2015 is center fielder Odubel Herrera and he's done a better job sustaining his previous gains. Herrera has some power, is a threat to run, and more than doubled his walk rate (5.2 percent to 10.8 percent) since last season.

Despite some good young players, the Phillies' attack has been impotent because the nice performances haven't compensated for Galvis, Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos, entirely too many Ryan Howard plate appearances, and a series of woeful bench players that have soaked up an unfortunate amount of at-bats. It seems that pieces are falling into place to correct Philadelphia's significant talent deficit, but for the time being, this is a bad baseball team that simply isn't there yet. It's the fifth straight lean year for the Phillies and they might even have a sixth before they become relevant in the NL East again. That's a long time to spend trying to claw themselves out of the pit, but Ruben Amaro can dig a mean hole.

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Tuesday, August 23: Carlos Rodon vs. Jake Thompson
  • Wednesday, August 24: Beardy McShrugface vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Cesar Hernandez - 2B

SP1. Jeremy Hellickson - RHP

2. Odubel Herrera - CF

SP2. Jerad Eickhoff - RHP

3. Aaron Altherr - LF

SP3. Vincent Velasquez - RHP

4. Tommy Joseph - 1B

SP4. Jake Thompson - RHP

5. Maikel Franco - 3B

SP5. Adam Morgan - LHP

6. Ryan Howard - DH

CL. Jeanmar Gomez - RHP

7. Cameron Rupp - C

RP1. Hector Neris - RHP

8. Freddy Galvis - SS

RP2. David Hernandez - RHP

9. Peter Bourjos - RF

RP3. Edubray Ramos - RHP


Star-divide

This concludes the 2016 team preview series on South Side Sox. It's hard to believe my third year writing these is already in the books. I hope you all found these to be enjoyable, and thanks for reading!