In his last game as a member of the Phillies, Ryan Howard was lauded, applauded, and praised by everyone from fans in the stands to the broadcasters in the Mets TV booth. But before the teams even took the field for a sarcastically-played season finale in which two different Phillies forgot how many outs there were in a single inning, it was clear that Howard had lost his job.
162: So long, Ryan Howard. pic.twitter.com/UwFECRBhWI— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) October 2, 2016
Even in his final start, the Phillies bumped Big Piece out of the clean-up spot, the slot in which their clubhouse lineup card must have his name permanently stained in Pete Mackanin’s glorious calligraphy. In his place was Maikel Franco, the bright young third baseman around which the team is basing its future. Franco, in his sophomore season at 24 years old, took a half a step backward on the stats page this year, but had a 4-for-4 day at the plate on Sunday. Howard came up to bat in the ninth inning to his seventh or eighth well-earned ovation of the weekend, stepped into the batter's’ box, and popped the first pitch out to shortstop.
A couple of outs later, the game was over, the 71-91 season was over, and, in a conclusion that at one point seemed unreachable, Ryan Howard in a Phillies uniform was over.
Watching Franco have a day at the plate while making some sharp stops in the hot corner, it was palpable: The bittersweet cheers from 36,935 in attendance were for Howard, the last of the ‘08s, but these people are ready to pack a stadium in October for a different reason than saying goodbye.
These people are ready for the future. And the Phillies are ready to give it to them.
When was it over:
Well, people’s low, low expectations were rewarded right from the first pitch of 2016. There was not a much worse way to start the season than getting swept out of Cincinnati, a team that wound up with under 70 wins, unless Matt Klentak had introduced himself to Philadelphia by dragging the Phanatic to the pitcher’s mound at the home opener and summarily executing him. Still, the people of Philadelphia were lusting for baseball, even if their team was bringing home an 0-3 record.
Things did improve, as they always do to some extent over the course of a 162-game season. But on May 1, the Phillies were 15-10, 2.5 GB the NL East lead, and winners of 10 of their last 13 games. People went wild for Vince Velasquez’s searing heater that struck out 16 Padres in a CGSO, Odubel Herrera was converting 0-2 counts into walks, and career utility man Andres Blanco was hitting .323.
Was Peter Bourjos hitting .171 through 23 games, a BA that would drop even lower in the days to come? Yes he was.
But there was enough working to keep pace in the repugnant division the Phillies call home, and with a full month in the bag, who knew what sort of trouble these Phillies could cause? Don’t forget - there was still all of those touted prospects in the minors just waiting for a reason to be promoted.
Well folks, I don’t need to tell you what happens to fans of developing teams who let their emotional barriers drop. Anyone who allowed their optimism to seep into the part of their brain that produces common sense was a woeful sad sack exactly one month later. On June 1, the Phillies were in the middle of a seven-game losing streak that would sap them and their fans of any fire for the rest of the year. From May 27 to June 22, they won four times. Granted, this was a stretch that put them up against the Cubs and Nationals multiple times, but it didn’t matter. This team deflated and draped itself like an empty gas bag over the NL East’s last place Braves.
What went well:
They swept the Nationals at home once.
Also, Jerad Eickhoff’s curve ball. At some point, every young member of this rotation went down either due to injury or because the Phillies shut them down - Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, and Vince Velasquez all stepped aside before the close of the season. Adam Morgan lost his job, then got it back due to a thinning staff. Charlie Morton was smart and got out in April with a torn left hamstring. But Jerad Eickhoff bore down, worked that sexy curve, and emerged at the end of the season, body and mind more or less intact. Meaningless finale or no, he wasn’t going to let a yawning, disinterested Mets lineup ruin his final start.
Eickhoff strikes out his 7th batter through 5 pic.twitter.com/CbqPPV5hyN— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) October 2, 2016
Odubel Herrera’s first half was a sight to behold as well. Teams destined for fourth place don’t always have the luxury of players who are fun to watch. Herrera, the team’s sole all-star, became known for his hair trigger for bat-flipping and generous aid to umpires on ball and strike calls. He finished slashing .287/.362/.421 (similar numbers to the 2015 campaign that put him on the map) with 6 3B, 63 BB, and 25-for-32 in SB attempts. Talk of trading him came and went when he was at his hottest, but hopefully the team keeps him around as they sort out their outfield. Not too many Rule 5 picks get a starting job in center field, but the 24-year-old earned it and could be a key troublemaker in the seasons to come.
Freddy Galvis found a pocket of power somewhere in his 5’ 10” frame to give the Phillies four 20 HR hitters; Howard, Franco, and Tommy Joseph were the others - and that’s the incredible part. Tommy Joseph succeeding at anything with his brain in the shape that it’s in was an absolute gift, having come over from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence trade as a catcher with a history of concussions. He blasted numbers at AAA early in the season to get him a frequent role as the Phillies’ first baseman, and with his predecessor ushered out the door at the close of the season, 2017 could be an very interesting time for a young slugger who hit 21 HR and bashed his way to a .505 SLG in 106 games.
Oh, and Cesar Hernandez, who even after hitting over .280 since July 23 and walked 50 times from July to the end of the season (after walking 16 times in the first half), still somehow doesn’t seem to have convinced everyone he’s a permanent contributor.
Why does Hernandez keep making so many mental mistakes on the field?
He got caught stealing third base in the seventh inning Saturday, which befuddled Mackanin and coaches because the Phillies trailed by four at the time.
"I have no idea why he went," Mackanin said.
A second opinion:
“Oh, Phillies. They were shockingly competent for the first two months, finishing May with a .500 record. Then they went 9-19 in June and everyone remembered "Oh, they're the Phillies," including the Phillies players themselves. Their young, strong pitching rotation began to succumb to injury, putting Vince Velasquez. Zach Eflin, and Aaron Nola on the shelf. (But not before Nola racked up a 9.82 ERA in his last eight starts.)
The Phillies have been emitting their death knell for more than a month now, and while their offense has been pretty putrid, their bullpen ended up being their ultimate downfall. When rosters expand, most teams' bullpens get better. The Phillies' bullpen got appreciably worse. The poster child for this is their dependable closer, Jeanmar Gomez, who pitched to a 19.13 ERA in September. That didn't stop the Phillies from using him, or any member of their bullpen. At one point I expected manager Pete Mackanin to call for a dude from the 'pen and for no one to come out. They would just refuse to pitch. "We're too bad, Mack. Don't make us do this again."
One consolation: they won't come close to losing 100 games this year, so 2016 is officially better than 2015.
But boy, was it ever close.”
—Liz Roscher, Supreme Blogstress, The Good Phight
What’s in the future:
Since I haven’t shut up about the Phillies’ future, it’s pretty clearly on everyone’s minds. There are no lingering links to the last generation; a wide net of prospects has been accrued through trades to give the Phillies options as they move forward; the front office was cleared out prior to 2016 and in their first year at the helm, Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak had a 1:1 draft pick to select (They went with catcher Mickey Moniak, who was named the No. 1 Gulf Coast League prospect by Baseball America). And don’t forget - you forgot, didn’t you - top prospect J.P. Crawford is still lurking in the minors with a few faces awaiting their chance with the big club.
Guys like Franco, Herrera, Joseph, and others like Galvis, Hernandez, outfielder Aaron Altherr (who missed most of the year with a wrist injury) and the pitching staff will become are one year closer to being fully-formed. Whether they have futures awaiting them with the next rising Phillies team or not, their progress lets the front office know what they have in certain guys and allows for the formulation of a clearer plan.
But hey, if Ryan Howard’s extension is off the books, then anything can happen.