As the Philadelphia Phillies look to success at home in a weekend series with the division rival Mets, their new 2nd baseman may be a key roadblock.
As we surge through the month of July, the excitement in Philadelphia seems to surround the arrival of a Croatian born basketball player, the smell of football training camp in the air, and yes, a young exuberant Phillies baseball team.
With the beginning of baseball’s unofficial second half coming this evening, the Phillies welcome in the NL East division rival New York Mets for a three game weekend series.
As they begin this stretch of baseball, there is some intrigue surrounding the young Phillies group. They come into the night only six games out of the final NL Wildcard.
Also, the trade deadline looms with a few pieces apparently on the block. Perhaps most rousing is the idea of all the young talent that could begin popping up with the big club as the months progress.
However, as a Major League Baseball season goes, we have to let it roll on one day at a time. And today is Friday, July 17th. Today, the Phillies have to handle the Mets. And, at this point in the 2016 baseball season, there is one specific Met they have to key on if they want to have success.
Today, I would normally be turning to their All-Star outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes. However, because of a quad injury, he is out of tonight’s lineup and appears likely to miss a bulk of the series. When you examine what is left in the Mets lineup, well, it’s a sorry sight.
I am turning to a player whom I have had a great amount of respect for since his early career. Living in Central Pennsylvania, I have been able to take various turns watching our beloved Phillies, but also the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Watching the Pirates, I really started to love the story of hometown hero, Neil Walker.
The second baseman was selected in the first round of the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft as a catcher. However, he was quickly switched to third base in the minors, making his 2009 debut as a third baseman.
However, with Andy LaRoche the regular third baseman, the Bucs decided to try Walker at second base instead. It paid dividends, because he would be an anchor there for quite some time.
Walker had a successful six seasons with the Pirates, winning a Silver Slugger in 2014 after batting .271/.342/.467, slugging 23 homeruns, plating 76 RBI, and scoring 74 runs himself.
He only slipped below .270 one time during his run donning black and yellow. He eclipsed 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 55 runs scored in every season. Walker was a model of consistency in a maturing Pittsburgh lineup.
In 2015, Walker reached his second highest careers totals in hits (146), dingers (16) and third highest in runs scored (69) and RBI (71).
My point being that he was not yet broken and still plenty productive at this point in his career. The Pirates did not see him as a part of the younger roster they wanted to move forward with into 2016.
On December 9th of this past winter, the Pirates moved Walker to the Mets, where he would avoid arbitration after signing a one year deal for around $10 million.
He got off to a red-hot start in April, hitting nine homeruns, which tied a Mets single month record and was his normal, consistent self. However, Walker has slowed considerably in the month leading up to the All-Star break.
He has been far from a star, but for a team dealing with plenty of injuries, Walker has provided them with stability at a normally dull offensive position.
The 30-year-old his producing at a clip of .254/.323/.430 with 15 bombs, 37 RBI, and 36 runs. He is on course to reach his career averages, with the exception of homeruns, which he has already beaten (.270/.336/.431 with 14 homers, 57 runs batted in, and 55 runs scored).
Without Cespedes or Conforto, who has been banished to the minor leagues, in the lineup, the Phillies really need to key on taking care of Walker. The question remains though: how do you stop Walker?
The switch hitter will be hitting mostly from the left side since he is going to see Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, and Zack Eflin. He is slashing .241/.313/.390 from the left side this season, but has a majority of his homers (10) in many more at bats lefty than righty (228-63).
He has actually been much more effective on the road than at home this season. At home, the switch hitter is .240/.314/.383, bashing six of his 15 homers. On the road, he is supremely better at .270/.333/.482 during 2016.
Most of his at bats this season have come from the left side where is very pull heavy. He has only put seven balls on the ground to the left side in his almost 230 at bats. He is a certain candidate to see a shift over the course of the weekend.
From that left side, which is where we will see him for the majority of his at bats, Walker loves the ball down and in. This comes as no surprise, seeing as most left-handed hitters do love the ball they can go golf out of the stadium. The Phillies will more than likely use off speed pitches down and away in the zone to try to get Walker to roll over on pitches and bounce into the shift.
If they are able to hold Walker at bay for three days, they could find themselves moving in the right direction, as they were heading into the All-Star break. If they do not manage to hold one of the Mets only offensive threats down, it could prove to be a major step in the wrong direction coming out of the break.
Phillies Offensive Roadblock Grades: Rockies series
My Choice: Nolen Arenado (5-17, two doubles, a triple, a walk, RBI, run, three strikeouts)
My Grade: Arenado had his moments over the four game set. However, he did not control the series. The Phillies were able to strike out Arenado three times, when he has only done that in 52 of his 360 plus at bats. His output and the split series gives me a positive grade. My Grade: B
Phillies Grade: They were able to control him and not let the All-Star run the series at home. Coming out of Colorado with a split is a huge deal. Being able to set down a guy on strikes when he has only had that happen in a fifth of his season at bats is even better. Phillies Grade: A