With the smallest possible sample size to judge the Phillies, following a 4-3 Opening Day win over the Reds on Monday thanks to 10 hits and five walks and a fantastic outing from starter Jeremy Hellickson, Phils fans are understandably optimistic.
“To start the season like that, it gives you some confidence,” Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis said, referring himself and his teammate Cesar Hernandez — each of whom blasted a homer Monday. “I think he’s going to have a good year.”
Will the Phillies have a good year too?
Fivethirtyeight.com gives Philly a 9 percent chance of making the playoffs. Which means everything would have to go absolutely perfectly in order for the improbable to occur.
Here are five things that will have to happen in order for the Phils to shock the baseball world:
The Phils’ pitching staff isn’t as dynamic or packed with big names like the Mets or the Cubs, but they have some quality arms.
If Clay Buchholz, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Hellickson all stay on the field and can equal the numbers they have posted during the better parts of their careers, the rotation should be OK.
The problem is that history is bucking that trend. Nola and Velasquez were shut down due to wear and tear injuries at the end of 2016 while Buchholz — who has impressed during All-Star caliber stretches with the Red Sox — has never been able to string healthy seasons together. Hellickson has an injury history that relented as he pitched his way to 289 innings in 2016 while Eickhoff has just over 240 innings total in the bigs.
Manage the prospects
It’s sort of a contadictory command here. The Phils’ future is in the minors, with prospects like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens working their way out of Lehigh Valley and Reading. But in order for the Phils front office to be convinced to pull the trigger on a call-up, there would have to be some kind of need or opening at the MLB level.
In a perfect world, a few of the top young talents in the minors poke their way into the bigs due to impressive play, not to injuries or slumping big leaguers.
Take care of the division
Philadelphia had a 30-46 mark in the NL East last season, the worst in their division. While games against the lowly Braves and mediocre Marlins could provide Philly some much-needed divisional victories, 18 games apiece against the Mets and Nationals, two probable postseason squads, will make things pretty tough on a young and inexperienced roster.
Take advantage of the short porch
The Phillies didn’t hit enough home runs in 2016. They allowed a total of 213 homers defensively, to just 161 offensively, butting them in the bottom top third and bottom third in those stat groups, respectively. Playing in the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park, the team will need sluggers like Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph to provide more pop.
Trust the process
Fast becoming a mantra across Philly sports teams, GM Matt Klentak is building the Phillies to be a long-term competitor and patience is required. Eventually the team will break through, and whether it happens in 2017 or beyond is up to the players and their development. If recent World Series champions have proven anything — from the 2008 Phillies to the 2016 Cubs — it’s that homegrown talent is the best way to climb the ladder.