Once considered a bright star in their future, the Phillies seemed to reach a breaking point where they could no longer put up with Maikel Franco’s inconsistency.
The rumor mill was spilling that they were trying to move him, which made sense at the time because they were also trying to concoct a deal to bring Manny Machado to town.
In early June, when manager Gabe Kapler began plugging J.P. Crawford into Franco’s spot in the lineup at third base—benching Franco four out of five games—his fate appeared sealed.
It seemed only a matter of time before the man from the Dominican Republic, who had been such a sensation when he arrived back in 2015, would be heading elsewhere.
Then everything changed. A freak wrist injury to Crawford re-opened the door for Franco, who’s gone on to knock everything out of the park.
Since that time, he’s belted nine homers, to go with 21 RBIs while hitting at a .326 clip through Wednesday. Meanwhile, in the field, he’s been downright sensational, making several spectacular run-saving plays, which has likely helped turn potential losses into wins.
For all Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, and others have done to make these Phillies a first-place team. Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak must shudder to think where they would be without Franco.
“Just a reminder things can turn around fast,” said Kapler, while the Phils were in the process of sweeping the Marlins before heading out west.
“In the span of a month, you can go from a guy who’s having a hard time staying in the lineup every day, to a guy you legitimately cannot take out of the lineup for any reason.”
As good as he’s going now, the 25-year-old Franco has learned to take nothing for granted.
“I just try to enjoy the moment. I always try to have fun, but sometimes it’s not easy when you see the situation going on,” said Franco, who’s gone from hitting .241 to .275.
That is when he received some advice from a teammate who could identify with his struggles.
“I told him he has to believe in himself and the ability God gave him to play baseball,” said first baseman Carlos Santana, whose locker is directly next to Franco’s.
“I feel very comfortable talking to Mikey about stuff like this because I went through it too. This is a sport that has its ups and downs and at times you’re going to struggle,” he said.
“You just have to trust your ability and stay positive. I’m glad he listened to me because it’s a collective effort. If things are working for him, things work out for the whole team.”
The Phillies, who were 36-32 at the time, have gone 27-17 since Franco began going on his tear.
Among his clutch hits, none were bigger than the three-run walk-off homer against the Marlins last week, which had his parents texting and calling him and folks all over the Dominican celebrating.
That home run came just days after Franco had played at the home of his boyhood favorite team, Fenway Park.
“As a little kid the Red Sox were my favorite team,” admitted Franco, who went 4-for-9 with an RBI and two runs scored at Fenway.
“Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez were my favorite players. Now I had the opportunity to play them there.”
Nevertheless, it would be getting way too far ahead of things to suggest Franco & Co. might get another crack at Fenway come late October and the World Series. But for the guy who legitimately had to wonder not that long ago where he might be working, it’s just nice coming to the ballpark these days knowing his place is secure.
“I’ve had some tough moments and some really good moments,” said Franco. “It’s more relaxing when you know coming in you expect to play. It’s easy to come in and do your work and get ready for the game.”
So who needs Manny Machado? For Maikel Franco and the Phillies, who once seemed destined to part ways, what a difference two months make.