Tomorrow marks the official beginning of the nonofficial second half of the MLB season. Through 91 games in 2015, the Phillies have been historically bad—losing the most games at an All-Star Break (62) in the franchise’s history. While there won’t be meaningful games in the second half in terms of playoff implications, these last 71 games will be very important for the Phillies franchise. There are young players currently on the team that can continue to develop, and there are top prospects waiting in the wings that we will eventually see on the field. There may not be many wins to celebrate between now and October 4, but there are still things to look forward to as the the second half begins.
Let’s take a look at the top five things to look forward to post All-Star Break.
5. Hernandez and Galvis continuing to develop: Honestly, we have no idea if Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis will be contributors once the Phillies are competitive again, especially with the J.P. Crawford era on the horizon. One or both could be demoted to the role of utility player. But at age 25, they are both young pieces that showed signs of promise in the first half. Because of that, their continued development will be important to keep an eye on once the second half gets underway. Galvis entered the All-Star break swinging a hot bat, hitting .377 with a .913 OPS in his last 14 games. After raising his average to a team-high .302 earlier this month, Hernandez cooled off during the team’s last road trip heading into the break, hitting .263 with a .596 OPS in his last 38 at-bats. If both show more consistency at the plate in the second half, it will bode well for the Phillies’ future.
4. Utley trying to prove he still has some left in the tank: For Chase Utley, the second half will serve as a redemption campaign. Despite Ruben Amaro Jr.’s comments that Utley will not be starting even after he returns from the DL, the 36-year-old will still get his opportunities at the plate and in the field. The first half was one to forget for Utley, as he batted .179 in 218 at-bats before being placed on the DL with an ankle injury. Fans don’t want their last memory of Utley to be the .179 hitter who looked lost at the plate for much of the first half. Judging by Utley’s competitive nature, he doesn’t want his time in Philadelphia, or as a Major Leaguer, to end that way either. He will get his chances to prove that he has some good baseball left in him throughout the second half.
3. Franco adjusting to adjustments: After a fantastic month of June where he hit .352 with eight home runs, 24 RBIs and earned NL rookie of the month honors, Maikel Franco has come back down to earth in July, hitting just .250 in 48 at-bats. During the Phillies’ road trip heading into the All-Star Break, Franco hit .237 with only two extra-base hits and 10 strikeouts. He also hasn’t homered since June 23 at Yankee Stadium. Pitchers have made adjustments to Franco. Now it’s his turn to make some adjustments of his own. Out of the crop of young players the Phillies have on their roster, nobody’s development is more important than Franco’s. If he can get hot again in the second half, he will further cement himself as a a significant middle-of-the-order bat for the Phillies down the line.
2. The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline: The Phillies’ front office has 15 days to finalize deals before the July 31 trade deadline. They have a number of players on the trading block, such as Jeff Francoeur, Ben Revere, and Jonathan Papelbon. The most important piece for the Phillies is left-hander Cole Hamels. While the chance of a Hamels deal is now reportedly “below 50/50,” the potential return for an ace pitcher provides more incentive to get a deal done. While nobody wants to see the 2008 World Series MVP go, a move needs to be made—for the right players in return, of course— for the betterment of the team down the line. The acquisition of a couple top prospects will help accelerate the club’s rebuild. They can only land those prospects by dealing an asset like Hamels. If a move is not made, Hamels’ trade value will inevitably diminish, and the likelihood of landing top-tier prospects will grow slimmer. Moving on from these players at the deadline will not make the Phillies any better on the field initially. However, the team will need to take a step back in order to hopefully make a big leap forward.
1. The eventual Major League debut of Aaron Nola: The timeline on Aaron Nola’s Major League debut is shedding more days with each start he makes in Triple-A, and every poor start a Phillies pitcher has. In five starts since his promotion to Lehigh Valley, the 22-year-old is 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 29.2 innings-pitched. Overall in the minors this season, Nola is 10-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 106.1 innings-pitched. Nola’s debut could come as early as the end of the month, especially if the Phillies’ league-worst starting pitching continues to struggle early in the second half. Due to the number of innings he has pitched in the minors this season, the Phillies will likely have Nola on an innings count once he is brought up. While his leash won’t have much slack, facing big league hitters on a consistent basis will go a long way in Nola’s development as a Major League starter. When he does make his debut, it’ll mark a big day for the Phillies’ future, and the future of their starting rotation.
The second half won’t have fans keeping a close eye on the standings, but it will give fans a chance to keep an eye on the development of the Phillies’ young players. 2015 may be a lost season in terms of wins and losses, but the rest of the season could prove to be very important for the Phillies as they move on with their rebuild. Those implications are reason enough to look forward to the second half of the season.