We’d all like to think that all teams are even at the start of a baseball season. Everyone is 0-0, and everyone has a chance.
But that’s not true.
For the most part, baseball has shown us time and time again that, in the end, talent wins. Over a 162-game season, things even out and the best team is usually the one with the most talent.
The sad fact is that right now, the Phillies do not have the most talent in baseball. Far from it. So in the most likely of scenarios, the Phillies will not be playoff bound this year.
Baseball also has shown us that there are sometimes anomalies of luck meshed with great play crossed with managerial wizardry. It’s happened before. It will happen again.
So what’s it going to take for them to be that next team that shocks the baseball world and comes from out of nowhere to contend for, or possibly even make, the playoffs? What is the Phillies best-case scenario?
If you want to think it’s a possible playoff run – and yes, there’s no reason to think that isn’t achievable if everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, breaks just right – some basic things are going to have to happen. If those things don’t happen, the Phillies won’t sniff the wild card past Memorial Day, let alone the All-Star Game:
Maikel Franco has to make The Leap.
It’s understandable that he regressed last year both statistically and to the naked eye. He had absolutely no one around him to take on some of the offensive workload, and it seemed like he would go weeks without seeing a decent pitch to hit. But as Daniel Walsh pointed out this week, much of the Phillies rebuild hinges on the star ability of Franco, and his success will be more directly attributable to the team’s success than anyone else, most likely. He has to learn to be more patient so that pitchers know he’s not going to get himself out. There looks like there will be at least a little more help around him this year, and he has to take advantage of that. Unless he goes for 35 home runs and and 110 RBI with an on-base percentage of about .350-.360, there is likely no shot for the Phillies to contend.
Clay Buchholz has to have a big comeback year.
If there is any chance for the Phillies to contend, it’s going to be because of the rotation. Vince Velazquez and Aaron Nola will have to stay healthy and Jerad Eickhoff will need to be better later in games, three things that are pretty reasonable to ask of them. But we’re going to need to see an all-star caliber type year from Buchholz if the Phillies want to be in any kind of contention. He’s the wild card of the rotation. We have a pretty good idea what we’re going to get from everyone else unless Nola or Velazquez go crazy and reach the upper levels of their potential overnight. How much is it worth to get Buchholz out of Fenway and away from the AL East? For the Phillies to contend, it’s going to have to be worth 200 innings and a WHIP around 1.10.
Someone from Lehigh Valley will have to come up and immediately turn into a star.
And it might have to be two players. No matter how you dissect it, there just isn’t a whole lot of playoff-team talent on the Phillies. There isn’t a position player on this team that would start for the Cubs. The biggest star-possibility talents are going to be starting the year in Allentown. If a couple of them race out of the gates and show they’re ready for the big leagues, then the Phillies need to get them to the majors and hope they keep it up. In a perfect world, one would be J.P. Crawford to replace Freddy Galvis, and the other would be Roman Quinn to add some speed to the lineup and allow Odubel Herrera to hit second. No matter who it is, it has to be someone.
The bullpen needs to be more stable and reliable.
This is the one that looks most likely to happen, if only because there is really nowhere to go but up from 2016, especially the second half. Blowing games late is so mentally draining that a team teetering on the brink could get completely swept up in the negativity of it all and just stop thinking they have chances to win games unless they score 10 runs per game. Not saying they need a Brad Lidge-like 46-for-46, but they need a shutdown bullpen to be successful. Pat Neshek definitely got the bullpen pointed in the right direction in the World Baseball Classic, now let’s hope it carries over into the regular season.
In the end, no one should be expecting a playoff run because too many things have to happen that just aren’t likely to happen based on past data and experiences. But there is a best-case scenario out there that screams 87 or 88 wins and late September contention. Wish away.