Phillies’ character to be tested with month of divisional games

Former Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler #19 takes the ball from Aaron Nola #27 (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Former Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler #19 takes the ball from Aaron Nola #27 (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Phillies have a daunting stretch of 26 games in a row against teams within their division. During this stretch, we will see the team’s real character.

The Phillies have fallen into second place in the NL East for the first time since late April. Now, with a month straight of games against opponents from within the division, they will answer some of their burning questions and test their character as a team.

Starting with a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves beginning this weekend, the Phillies will be tested to the limit in this make-or-break stretch.

Questions to be answered include:

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  • Will Aaron Nola return to form as the pitcher we know from last year?
  • Who in the rotation can be counted on to be a legitimate starter?
  • How will recoveries from injury help the bullpen, if at all?
  • What sort of addition does the team need regarding a bat?
  • Will Bryce Harper finally turn it up a notch, as so many fans are hoping for?

Nola has been disappointing this year. He has allowed 12 home runs, has only three starts longer than six innings (none longer than seven) and doesn’t have the same command that we have become accustomed to. His next opportunity will be against the Braves on Saturday night as he faces Sean Newcomb.

After Wednesday night’s performance, Zach Eflin leads all pitchers with a mere 1.3 Fangraphs wins above replacement. After Nola’s season last year, that is a disappointment. Eflin has had a couple of complete games to compensate for a few rocky outings and had a great outing on Wednesday despite being the losing pitcher in a 2-0 game.

However, Eflin should not be the Phillies’ best pitcher right now. It should be Nola, then Jake Arrieta, who has been a big letdown so far this year aside from an eight-inning performance against the Brewers a few weeks ago. Arrieta was deemed a massive free-agent signing when joining the team last March. However, he has not been playing up to his $25 million per year price tag.

If Eflin or Nick Pivetta can gain some form of consistency in the next month of divisional games, then the Phillies may have saved themselves from acquiring a new starter or two via trade next month.

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The bullpen has been a revolving door but has managed to hold its own during the injury epidemic. Unfortunately, Seranthony Dominguez will likely be out for a while after receiving a PRP injection and may need Tommy John surgery.

On the bright side, Edubray Ramos has been activated from the injured list and is beginning rehab. Adam Morgan is scheduled to rejoin the team during the upcoming road trip. Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter are close to beginning rehab assignments. David Robertson will hopefully be back after the All-Star Break. And perhaps most impressive of all, Hector Neris has been standing on his head.

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with Neris. I thought that after the first few months of last year when he got sent down to Lehigh Valley, I didn’t think I was going to see him in a Phillies uniform again. Credit to him, though.

The team acquired Brad Miller from the New York Yankees this week in what appears to be the start of many moves to come. However, I still believe the team needs to acquire at least one more bench bat. It’s unclear if Odubel Herrera will be back anytime soon, but he has been a big disappointment this year. Ditto for Maikel Franco.

The latter portion of the year could very well see Scott Kingery at third base, Jay Bruce in left, and either a mix of players or a one-year rental in center. If the Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves struggling heading into the All-Star Break, I’d like to see the Phillies make a push for a guy like Adam Jones as the deadline nears.

Finally, regarding Harper: at this point last year, Bryce Harper wasn’t hitting for average as he is right now, but he had better slugging numbers (from more home runs) and a slightly better OPS.

Harper turned up his hitting in the second half of last year and finished with an OPS of .889. That number is fine if your name is Rhys Hoskins (who, by the way, has an OPS of .909 so far this year) and you are on a pre-arbitration salary.

However, Harper is not Hoskins and has a salary of more than $26 million. I, like many fans, expect more from him. Playing in front of a passionate fan base in Philadelphia will be a test to his character. I believe he can rise to the challenge.

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The question for the rest of the team over the next month remains the same: can they? This month of division games will test the team’s limits, and we as fans will find out who the 2019 Phillies genuinely are. But several players are due back soon, and that should be a boost to the collective morale and confidence of the team.