The Philadelphia Phillies (24-16) have slowly opened up a lead in the National League East Division standings as mid-May arrives. As opposed to last season, when the club was in first place with a 2.5 game lead in late July, this time around feels much different.
One of the primary reasons that the 2019 version of the Phillies seems capable of sustaining their lead is a much more experienced and talented every day lineup. That is thanks to the additions of J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and, of course, Bryce Harper.
The starting pitching rotation has also gotten tremendous work over the season’s first seven weeks from Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin. Add in mostly solid performances from veteran Jake Arrieta and the group has been able to weather a slow start from ace Aaron Nola and the loss to injury of Vince Velasquez.
The Phillies bullpen mix has been, well, mercurial might be the best word to describe their performance as a whole. Right-hander Hector Neris and lefty Adam Morgan have been strong most of the season. Based on his most recent performance, Seranthony Dominguez may be rounding into form. That would be a huge lift for manager Gabe Kapler late in ball games.
But of all the reasons that the Phillies are alone in first place and a legitimate playoff contender for the first time in eight years can be found at first base. Rhys Hoskins appears to be flourishing with his return to the more comfortable defensive position. In fact, his numbers say that the 26-year-old is entering his prime as a legitimate National League MVP candidate.
Hoskins is slashing .285/.411/.590 with 11 home runs, and 35 RBIs. His OPS mark of 1.002 is fifth in the league. He is tied for sixth in homers and third in RBIs.
Over the last 14 games as the Phillies opened up their lead, Hoskins has been even better with a .320/.433/.640 OPS. He has eight extra-base hits and 15 RBIs in that span, and the team has gone from two games over the .500 mark with a half-game lead to eight games over .500 and a four-game lead in the loss column.
Evan Macy at The Philly Voice pointed out another big reason why Hoskins is so valuable to the Phillies overall attack in a piece earlier this month when he wrote the following:
“Hoskins sees the most pitches per plate appearance of anyone in all of baseball with 4.72 and has forced pitchers to throw the second most pitches in total of any batter…There are many reasons why the Phillies’ lineup has been ultimately one of the most successful in baseball (when healthy) and a big part of it stems from Hoskins anchoring thing…He really forces a pitcher to work — which trickles down into the opposing hurler making mistakes, or getting tired or frustrated.”
Cody Bellinger got off to a white-hot start for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year’s NL MVP, Christian Yelich, is off to another strong season with the Milwaukee Brewers. They are the clear leaders at the front of the conversation right now for National League Most Valuable Player.
But if Hoskins continues to rake as the Phillies cleanup hitter and the ball club remains on top of the division, he will remain one of the main candidates as that discussion really ramps up later in the summer.
MORE FROM PHILLIES NATION:
- Despite five hits from Lorenzo Cain, Phillies rally to defeat the Brewers
- Matt Veasey’s NL East Beat: Week of 5/6-5/12/19
- Phillies had been winning despite frustrating habit of losing series openers
- Larry Shenk’s Phillies Minor League Report: 5/14/19
- Minor League mash-up: Lakewood off to a slow start