The Phillies won 71 games last season, which — despite being 20 games under .500 — was an eight-game improvement over 2015. The Phillies weren’t active signing big names on the free-agent market this offseason but did trade for a couple of pitchers and a veteran hitter who could have an impact on the team this season. The Phillies traded a couple of players to the Dodgers in exchange for OF Howie Kendrick. The more notable name of the two pitchers is SP Clay Buchholz, who the Phillies acquired from the Red Sox for a minor leaguer. Early in the winter, they added an arm to the bullpen by trading for veteran RP Pat Neshek from the Astros. They also signed another veteran reliever, Joaquin Benoit, in free agency to help bolster the bullpen in addition to signing OF Michael Saunders to add another veteran to the offense. Outside of the veterans acquired this winter, much of the core of the Phillies’ roster consists of young players as part of the team’s continued rebuilding efforts.
The Phillies’ offense ranked near the bottom of MLB last season, with their .240 batting average finishing next-to-last in the majors while their 161 home runs were better than just six other teams. Their hitters weren’t patient at the plate, either, finishing with the seventh-most strikeouts and second-fewest walks last season. If you’re looking for a bright spot on the roster, the team’s 96 steals were better than the league average of 85. 2B Cesar Hernandez led the team’s regular starters with a .294 average while 3B Maikel Franco’s 25 home runs tied 1B Ryan Howard — who is currently a free agent — for the most on the team. Franco hit just .255, though. It was a similar story with SS Freddy Galvis, whose 20 home runs came with a .241 average in his second full major-league season. The pitching wasn’t great, either, with the staff’s 4.63 ERA ending up as the fifth-worst in the majors. Their 1,299 strikeouts matched up exactly with the league average, as did the 43 saves recorded by the bullpen. No regular starting pitcher had a better ERA than 3.65, which was posted by SP Jerad Eickhoff. SP Jeremy Hellickson wasn’t far behind him at 3.71. SP Vince Velasquez, who was limited by injuries to 24 starts, had a strong start to the season but regressed in the second half to finish with a 4.12 ERA. He managed to strike out 152 batters in 131 innings while Eickhoff’s 167 strikeouts and 197 innings led the team. RP Jeanmar Gomez recorded 37 saves but didn’t do well in other categories, posting a 4.85 ERA and just 47 strikeouts in 68.2 innings.
The Phillies don’t look to be a much-improved team from last season and most of their young players will have to improve considerably if they want to have a chance of contending for anything. Hellickson and Buchholz will have to anchor the rotation that apart from them consists of young pitchers in Velasquez, Eickhoff and Aaron Nola if they want to give the team a chance to win games because the offense can’t be counted on to score a lot of runs. But even if the starters can give a lead to the bullpen, it’s not certain that Gomez would be able to successfully close out the games because the numbers he put up last season aren’t indicative of what you would expect to see from a closer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he loses the closer’s role at some point during the season — possibly to Benoit, who has some closing experience in his career. Or RP Hector Neris, who struck out 102 batters last season, could get a chance to close out games.
The Phillies finished in fourth place in the division last season and that is likely the best they can hope for this year, as it’ll likely be them and the Braves at the bottom of the East. There are too many question marks on the team — including a lack of a true ace and closer — to expect them to improve much from 2016. They’ll probably be around the 70-win mark again this year as their young players aren’t quite ready to take the next step yet and the players they added during the offseason probably won’t do much to help the team approach .500.