Analysis

Philadelphia Phillies 2018: a final look back


Former Cy Young Award winner Arrieta signed a three-year free agent deal in spring training to bring a veteran presence to the Phillies rotation.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and as the sand runs out in the hourglass of the year 2018, this would be a good time to take a look back on the year as it played out for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies entered the calendar year of 2018 with the echoes of their successes in the previous decade, successes which had spilled over to the first years of the present decade, growing fainter and fainter.

After finishing in last place in the National League East Division standings in three of the previous four seasons, the Phillies began putting a roster together they hoped would begin reversing that trend early in January.

On January 3, the Phillies invited 10 non-roster players and newly signed free agents to spring training. Among those players were Pedro Florimon, who would appear in 50 games during the regular season, and Mitch Walding, who would appear in the first 13 games of his big-league career.

Before the month of January was out, eight more non-roster players or new free agent additions would also receive invitations to join the Phillies in Clearwater. Among those were Scott Kingery, who would end up as the Phillies starting shortstop for much of the coming season.

Once spring training got underway, changes to the roster continued to shed the players who had contributed as regulars during the recent losing history when Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp were each designated for assignment during March.

The Phillies made a big, late free agent addition on March 12 when the club came to agreement on three-year contract with Jake Arrieta. The 32-year-old right-hander had won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and would bring a much-needed veteran presence to the team’s rotation.

2018 SEASON OPENS WITH HOPE

As the season opened, the club had little hope. Most fans would have considered a .500 finish during a season in which young players made strides towards the future as a positive step forward. But the club played well early, bolting out to a 14-7 mark over the first three weeks.

A hot stretch in early May pushed the Phillies record up to 29-20 and into first place in the division on May 26. However, the club began to slump at that point, losing seven of eight games to open the month of June. They continued to fight, and at the MLB All-Star Game break the Phillies were 53-42 and back in first place by a half-game.

That All-Star break was a fun one for Phillies fans, with starting pitcher Aaron Nola rewarded for a phenomenal first half by being named to the National League squad for the first time.

Nola would prove the best individual story of the season, going 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA and 0.975 WHIP. He allowed just 149 hits over 212.1 innings with 224 strikeouts. For that performance, Nola would finish third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

Outfielder Rhys Hoskins was named as one of the sluggers to perform in the annual Home Run Derby. Hoskins was an underdog and matched up against Milwaukee Brewers powerful first baseman Jesus Aguilar in the opening round. The Phillies young star found his groove and upset Aguilar by 17-12.

Hoskins turned it up a notch in a second-round matchup with Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers, blasting 20 homers. But Muncy powered up himself, rallying for a 21-20 victory.

The Phillies came out of the break playing uneven baseball, going 6-6 over the last two weeks of July. However, a five-game winning streak as the calendar turned to August left them a season-best 15 games over the .500 mark. Their 63-48 record had the Phillies 1.5 games up in the standings and had fans talking about a possible unexpected return to the postseason.

SECOND-HALF COLLAPSE

There were warning signs, if you were willing to look beyond the wins and focus on overall performance. Poor team defense. Players being used out of position. A lineup that was failing to produce on a consistent basis. Somehow the Phillies were winning despite poor statistics.

Many felt that the winning couldn’t possibly be sustained without an infusion of impact talent at the trade deadline. The Phillies were linked to a number of big names, the biggest being Baltimore Orioles superstar Manny Machado. It was rumored that Machado wanted to play shortstop, a position of need for the Phillies.

Such talent would not arrive, as Phillies management seemed to continually settle for second-tier additions such as shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, first baseman Justin Bour, reliever Aaron Loup, and catcher Wilson Ramos. The latter was actually injured at the time of his acquisition. None of the additions would help.

The pitching that had kept the club on top began to fray at the edges. The Phillies began to slump as those poor statistics began to show up in the results.

From August 8 through the end of the regular season the Phillies would collapse to the tune of a 16-32 record. They made one more attempt to bring in an aging difference maker, but Jose Bautista became just one more poor addition to the mix. They would tumble down the standings to a third-place finish and a sixth consecutive losing season.

STUPID OFF-SEASON

The off-season began with hope. The Phillies had as much money to spend as any team, more than most. Their owner, John Middleton, even said that he was willing to be “a little bit stupid” in spending that money on free agents.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak pulled off a trade with the Seattle Mariners in early December, ridding the club of the contract and lineup albatross of Carlos Santana and bringing back a legitimate big-league shortstop in Jean Segura. Longtime top prospect J.P. Crawford was also sent to Seattle in that deal.

On December 12, the first of that “stupid money” began to be spent in free agency when former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen was signed to a three-year, $50 million contract.

However, the big targets that Phillies fans had been looking forward to for months, Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper, have not yet been lured to Philadelphia as the calendar prepares to turn to 2019. Of course, they haven’t signed elsewhere yet either, so hope remains that one or the other could choose to play their future home games at Citizens Bank Park.

That’s basically where we stand at present. It was a year of ups and downs for the Philadelphia Phillies. It was also a year in which the Philadelphia Eagles won the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history, and in which the Philadelphia 76ers emerged as one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA.

Competing for the disposable dollars of Philadelphia sports fans is getting harder. The Phillies have not yet done much to excite that fan base into believing they can become a legitimate contender in the near future, let alone for the 2019 season. There is still time for the team. What there is not is much time left in the year 2018.

As this piece publishes my clock is reading almost 9:00pm EST here in the City of Brotherly Love. Parties are underway. Thousands of Mummers are preparing to march in a huge parade tomorrow. None of us knows what the 2019 season will hold for the Phillies, but whatever that may be, I am sure that I speak for everyone here at Phillies Nation in wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!

 

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