This story was adapted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newspaper. To read the full newsletter, Click here. And Subscribe To get it in your inbox regularly.
The Phillies swept the Marlins last weekend, then dispersed for the All-Star break.
Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said Friday he believes they can still carry that momentum into the second half.
“These guys feel it,” Thomson said.
“We’re coming down,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves in a pretty good place, we’re a lot better than we were a few months ago, that’s for sure. I think they feel that and they’re excited about it.”
The Phillies opened the second half tied with St. Louis for the third NL wild card. Here are five things they need to do to make the postseason for the first time in more than a decade:
1. Castellanos hits again
Nick Castellanos’ introductory press conference in March couldn’t have gotten Philly fans more excited than that. He looked and talked like a guy who played swagger with the Tigers and Reds.
“I don’t have a college degree,” he said. “I hit the baseball.”
Castellanos hit .329 with three home runs, 11 RBIs and a .921 OPS in 19 games through April 27. He hit .232 with five homers, 35 RBI and a .610 OPS in 72 games leading into the All-Star break. Overall, he entered Friday ranked 156th out of 157 eligible players in baseball with a -1.0 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Castellanos’ struggles didn’t go unnoticed, but Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins covered for him in the early days of July with catchy Junes. But as Schwarber and Hoskins have cooled off — Schwarber had a .650 OPS in 14 games before heading into the All-Star Game, while Hoskins had a .586 OPS in his last 12 — Castellanos’ struggles have become more apparent.
The Phillies need Castellanos to play like the player they signed to a five-year, $100 million contract in the second half. It’s too much to ask the pitching staff to put up zeroes every night, though he’s managed to allow three runs or fewer in 24 of Thomson’s first 41 games as interim manager. (They are 22-2 in those games.) The Phillies need big hits from someone other than Schwarber and Hoskins, especially when Bryce Harper and Gene Segura are sidelined. Castellanos is the most well-rounded player.
2. Thomson keeps pushing the right buttons
The Phillies’ bullpen has been mostly fantastic since Thomson replaced Joe Girardi. It is 11-5 with a 2.99 ERA since June 3, which is tied for the third-best bullpen ERA in baseball. Thomson has used Ceranthany Dominguez (1.85 ERA) and Brad Hand (2.17 ERA) nearly flawlessly in the eighth and ninth innings. He mixed and matched Jose Alvarado (1.32 ERA since being recalled from Triple-A in June), Corey Knebel (3.03 ERA), Andrew Belati (3.52 ERA) and Connor Brogdon (1.93 ERA) very well, even in high leverage situations.
It’s comforting to players that the bullpen can hold leads and keep deficits close, giving them a chance to come back and win. Remember how the 2007 Phillies made the postseason – Brett Myers, Tom Gordon and Jesse Romero pitching almost every day and effectively down the stretch? — and how the 2008 Phillies won the World Series.
3. Dombrowski takes his shot
Ask any Phillies player about the August 2nd trade deadline and they always say the same thing.
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has a reputation for movement and taking chances. He certainly believes trying to to win. Last summer, there were people in the front office who didn’t want the Rangers to trade Spencer Howard for Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy. The team had too many holes, they thought, so why give up a young arm like Howard? The Phillies fell short, but Dombrowski’s decision was the right one.
If you’re not trying to win when you have a chance to win, what in the world are you doing?
Expect Dombrowski to do something before the deadline. What he does depends on a myriad of factors, but you can bet this team is better than last year’s team. And if last year’s team deserved an upgrade, this one certainly does.
4. Starters stay ahead
Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are very good in the rotation. Nola (3.5 WAR) and Wheeler (3.0 WAR) ranked fourth and seventh among pitchers in WAR, respectively, as of Friday. But they are not the only ones who contributed. Kyle Gibson (1.2 WAR), Ranger Suarez (1.1 WAR) and Zach Eflin (1.1) WAR have also pitched well.
Collectively, the Phillies have the best rotation in baseball.
Eflin is definitely injured. The Phillies say they believe he will pitch again this season, but there is no timetable for his return. The front office will almost certainly try to acquire a starter before August 2nd. A second starter will give them a better chance to win every night, especially until …
5. Harper and Segura return
Harper did not give a timetable for his return from a broken left thumb, other than guaranteeing that he will return at some point. He’s hoping to get good news on Monday when he sees a follow-up exam. Segura said Friday that he thinks he could return in the first week of August. (Thomson said the schedule can be aggressive.)
Imagine if the Phillies were hanging around in the NL wild card race or making a comeback? Harper and Segura would be two big in-season acquisitions. Harper will move back to No. 3. Segura will hit somewhere behind Harper and Castellanos and add more length to the lineup.