The Phillies haven’t been contenders since 2011, back when the remnants of their World Series squad were still among the best players in baseball.
Now with every single member of the 2008 title squad gone, the new-look Phillies are in spring training hoping to make strides.
If the first two weeks of games are any indication — the strides could be much bigger than expected.
The Phillies have the third most home runs and third most runs overall through 12 spring training games. In 2016, they scored 610 runs — the third fewest in all of baseball. They also had the third fewest hits and seventh fewest home runs.
There is a feeling of optimism among manager Pete Mackanin and his youthful offense, which has the fifth most stolen bases and the third most walks this preseason.
“I believe if we play good baseball, and we play around .500 to get started, or I’d love to start off quick,” the manager told media members this week. “I think as we do that, and prove to ourselves that we are an improved team, I think there’s no telling what can happen down the stretch.”
The corollary to that is pitching.
Last year’s squad was in the top half of teams in baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio and strikeouts per nine innings — and if not for a big drop off in the season’s final months due in part to injuries to several key hurlers like Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola, they would have had one of the better pitching performances in the National League.
But a few lackluster performances to start things off from rotation staples like Nola have the numbers going south. The team’s 5.20 ERA is in the bottom third in spring training so far with eight players posting an ERA above 5.0, and just four below 5.0.
However, it’s early and has been a small sample size. And, the pitching almost always crawls behind the hitting as teams get up to speed in Florida or Arizona in March.
Phillies fans — and Mackanin — are hoping the impressive offensive performances turned in so far will give the team a little extra confidence and juice when the season starts in April.