Let’s face it: the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies were painful to watch.
Who is to say that 2016 can’t be better than the nonsense we watched every night last season? I know. I sound ridiculous. There is no way a 63 win team can jump to 81 or more wins with minimal changes – or is there?
While I realize the chances are not great, I do believe that if things fall into place, and with a stroke of luck here or there, the Phillies could make some noise in 2016.
Let’s look at the facts. First, the National League East is not necessarily a powerhouse division. While the Washington Nationals and New York Mets head into 2016 as the rightful NL East favorites, the other half of the division is extremely questionable.
The Atlanta Braves are more confusing than the Common Core math I teach every day. No one knows what that front office is trying to do there. The Miami Marlins are a mystery too. Every year, the talking heads claim Miami as the sleeper pick, and all the Marlins do is sleep through the entire season.
I am not suggesting that the Phillies can or will win the division. But playing 76 games against questionable division foes is a nice start towards realizing a much improved baseball season. Combine that with five specific situations the Phillies have set up for 2016 and, well, you just never know.
I decided I wanted to have some fun. I sat down and mapped out five ways the Phils can reach or top .500 in 2016. It will take a combination of my keys and other minor miracles, but over the course of a five-day period, we will take a look at how the Phillies can pull off an impeccable turnaround.
#1 Starting Pitching Rotation Stabilized
For most of last season, Phillies fans were able to watch Cole Hamels run out and start on the mound every fifth day. When the big lefty was not toeing the rubber though? Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, David Buchanan, Sean O’Sullivan, Chad Billingsley, Severino Gonzalez, and Kevin Correia all had at least five starts. Some had many more – far too many.
New general manager Matt Klentak has ensured the makeup of the rotation looks much different from last season. His main goal coming on board was to create as much pitching depth as he could across the organization.
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When Klentak arrived, the Phils had two pieces in place for their 2016 rotation: Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff. Both youngsters gave the team life in their 2015 rookie season starts. Nola used his highly touted poise and control to pitch to a 3.59 ERA in his 13 starts, while Eickhoff struck out an impressive 8.9/9 innings in his eight starts.
Then “Matty K” was hired and went to work. He acquired four arms that could find their way into the final three spots. He used two fringe prospects to bring in two right handers on the last year of their deals. The acquisitions of Charlie Morton and Jeremy Hellickson not only gives the Phils veteran presence and experience in the rotation, but two possible trade trips in July. I am extremely high on Hellickson, who I believe has had some bad luck in his career and could be a diamond in the rough during 2016.
Rounding out the rotation will be one of three arms. Adam Morgan, Brett Oberholtzer and Vincent Velasquez will battle it out for the final spot. Morgan, 25, impressed me last season. The once highly touted prospect had to battle through many injuries to get here, but when he did, turned a few heads. He definitely pitched his way into this season’s conversation in a fifth starter or long man role.
Oberholtzer and Velasquez, who were both acquired in the deal for Ken Giles, are also in the conversation. Velasquez is still a bit raw and could use extra minor league developmental time. Oberholtzer is out of options, and would give the Phillies the only lefty in their rotation. I do think he ends up winning the job.
The Phillies are looking at Hellickson, Nola, Morton, Eickhoff, and Oberholtzer as they enter Spring Training. If injuries arise, they have Morgan, Velasquez, and a slew of up and coming prospects such as Jake Thompson and Mark Appel to choose from to fill the void.
The rotation is far from a top of the league group. As a matter of fact, I see it in the bottom half of the majors, but every guy gives them a chance to win on a given night. And that is far better than what we watched on many nights last season.