Phillies Five Most Influential Events of 2015

For the Philadelphia Phillies, there were a handful of franchise-altering moments during a 2015 season that saw the club finish with the worst record in baseball for the first time in nearly two decades.
Some of those moments led to a complete change in direction at the highest levels of the franchise. 
Some led to changes in management at the field level. Still others turned the page on the team’s recent championship past.
The end of any calendar year is always an opportunity for us to look back and examine the road down which we travelled for these last 12 months. 
For a ball club, that road is filled with twists and turns. Injuries, trades, free agent signings, management changes, on-field results.
Much of what we think we know every January about the Phillies turns out to be way off by the time all is said and done. 
But that really wasn’t the case in 2015. Entering the year, everyone knew that it would be a season of change. It was simply a question of who, where, and when.
It is my opinion that the following five developments were the most influential on the Phillies franchise. 
All of them happened during or immediately following the 2015 season. All of them have major ramifications for the team’s future. 
Just how influential each will end up is something that may take years to evaluate. Let’s take a closer look at each of these pivotal events for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Philadelphia Phillies Likely 2016 Opening Day Lineup

The Phils are scheduled to take the field for a 4:10pm game at Great American Ball Park on Monday, April 4th against the host Cincinnati Reds. 
The likelihood is that Cincy will be starting one of two righthanders, either Anthony DeSclafani or Raisel Iglesias.
If that is indeed the case, then it almost certainly means that the Phillies own Opening Day lineup has a great shot to look something like this:
  1. Odubel Herrera, CF
  2. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
  3. Maikel Franco, 3B
  4. Ryan Howard, 1B
  5. Cody Asche, LF
  6. Aaron Altherr, RF
  7. Cameron Rupp, C
  8. Freddy Galvis, SS
  9. Aaron Nola, SP
In making his decisions, manager Pete Mackanin would be going with the percentages in using his lefty bats to start against the righty pitcher. 
That gives Howard the start at 1st, is the reasoning behind giving Asche a start in left, and pushes Hernandez to 2nd in the order, where as a switch-hitter he brings yet another left-handed hitting option.
The lineup above also gives the nod as the starting catcher to Rupp. That is by no means a given, though he will indeed enter spring training penciled into that role based on his 2015 performance. 

However, newcomer J.P. Arencibia should provide a legitimate challenge for both Rupp and longtime catcher Carlos Ruiz, who will be in his final spring with the club. Spring training should decide the backstop starter.
This lineup also gives a starting right field nod to Altherr over newcomersPeter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel
The reasoning is clear: Altherr has been developed in the Phils’ farm system. All things being equal, he is likely to get the benefit of the doubt and the starting nod to begin the season. 
However, here again, spring training performances could very well dictate who takes the field for this Opening Day.
This is not a lineup that, over the course of 162 games, is going to strike fear into the hearts of opposition pitching staffs across baseball. 
This lineup is the main reason that I don’t foresee major improvement in the Phillies position in the standings next season. 
We have an entire winter to get through, followed by Spring Training in Florida. Injuries will almost certainly occur. Some players will seriously disappoint. 
One or two may emerge as pleasant surprises, as Herrera a year ago. There may even still be a trade or free agent signing.
Much can happen between now and Opening Day in Cincinnati. But barring major surprises, this could well be your starting lineup on that first April Monday. Let’s see how well my crystal ball works.

Phillies Christmas Tree: Aaron Nola

It was just five months ago that Aaron Nola made his big league debut on July 21st. 
On that day at Citizens Bank Park, Nola shut down the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing just five hits and one run while striking out a half-dozen Rays’ batters over six innings.
That was the first of thirteen starts Nola would make in his rookie season. He was shut down a week early, following a shutout of Washington at Nationals Park over five innings.
All in all, Nola finished the season with a 6-2 record, 3.59 ERA, and a 1.197 WHIP. He allowed 74 hits in 77.2 innings, with a 68/19 K:BB ratio. 
The player who had been the Phillies 1st round MLB Amateur Draft choice just a year earlier had shown that he belonged and could be counted on in a big league rotation.
With every prognosticator of such things already predicting that Nola would ultimately settle into the middle of a contending big league rotation, it might appear that all the 22-year old needs to do in the coming 2016 season is stay healthy, and keep on keepin’ on. 

Do what he did in 2015, only over a full season, and continue that over a long career.
However, even with an obviously talented player such as Nola, one who has produced at every level to this point in his young career, there is plenty to hope for under a baseball Christmas tree. 
There are three things in particular that we hope were found under his tree in this case.
The first is the same as with any pitcher – health. He has never faced a significant injury. If the Phillies end up getting a decade of 180-200 mostly quality innings seasons from their right-hander that would be invaluable for the franchise.
As the 2015 season wound to a close, and the organization was debating whether to shut him down early, Nola was quoted by Philly.com’s Matt Breen on the topic. “I definitely feel better than I thought I would at this time of year,” Nola said. “I still feel like I can pitch a good bit.
In the 2014 season, Nola had pitched 116.1 innings over 16 starts in winding down his outstanding collegiate career at LSU
After being drafted and signed by the Phillies in early June, Nola proceeded to pitch another 55.1 innings over a dozen appearances, 11 of them starts, split between Clearwater and Reading.
That total of 171.2 innings in 2014 was ultimately increased to 187 innings this past season. 
He tossed 109.1 of those in the minors, split between Reading and Lehigh Valley, and then those 77.2 with the Phillies. That bump of 15.1 innings in usage should not be considered excessive.
While the Phillies have been somewhat aggressive in their promotion and usage of Nola, that was really part of the point in drafting him in the first place. 
He was considered an advanced prospect who would not require much developmental time in the minors, and that has proven to be the case.
A second gift that it would be nice for Nola to receive is one of increased performance. His anticipated role as a mid-rotation starter on a contender, more of a solid #3 or 4 type, could be elevated to more of a strong #2 starter.
The key there will be maintaining and possibly even improving upon the pinpoint control that allows his pure stuff, which is a tick above average, to play up even further. 
If Nola finds another level in performance, and can develop into a Greg Maddux clone, even an approximation of that level of control, what a gift that would be for the player and the Phillies.
Finally, Nola could receive the gift of a better team in front of him. He performed well and won consistently with the worst team in Major League Baseball. 
A leap forward by the talent around him would be a boon to the stats on the back of his baseball cards, and to the fans who will be paying to enjoy them all.

Phillies Christmas Tree: Maikel Franco

During September of 2014, Maikel Franco made his debut in Major League Baseball. 
It was an inauspicious beginning with the Phillies, as Franco hit for just a .179/.190/..214 slash line in 58 plate appearances across 16 games.
Still, the Phils top prospect had gotten his feet wet, and would surely benefit the next time he got the call. That call came a little more than seven months ago, on May 15th.
Just two days later, Franco launched his first big league home run off Randall Delgado in a 6-0 Phillies victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.

Franco took over the starting 3rd base position, and was handling his defensive responsibilities well, while providing a much-needed young spark to the middle of the batting order.
From his promotion through August 10th, a period that encompassed 76 games, or roughly a half-season, Franco hit for a .277/.388/.490 slash line with 13 homers, 22 doubles, 48 RBI, and 43 runs scored. 
But just when he was shoving himself into the NL Rookie of the Year conversation, disaster struck. On August 11th, Franco stepped in against the DBacks at Chase Field
On the mound, ironically, was righty Jeremy Hellickson, who will now be a Franco teammate with the Phillies in 2016.
Hellickson drilled Franco with a fastball on the left wrist in the top of the 1st inning. The pitch would cause a small fracture, one that appeared to end his promising rookie season.
But Franco was able to recover in time to make appearances in the final three games of the season. He even banged a home run at Citizens Bank Park in the 2nd game of an October 3rd doubleheader against the Miami Marlins.
Franco hopefully woke this morning to find a pair of important gifts from Santa, from a baseball perspective, under his Christmas tree.
The first is simply good health. If Franco can stay healthy all year in 2016, have even small performance increases from the players around him, and continue a normal expected developmental growth progression of his own, then we could be looking at a 30+ home run, 100+ RBI season. 
No Phillies batter has reached either of those marks since Ryan Howard in the 2011 season.
Another important gift that Franco hopefully found is increased defensive effectiveness. 
While he may have appeared to make most of the plays to the casual fan, the fact is that Franco’s defense by any measurable standard was below average at the hot corner last season.
If it turns out that Franco has to move across the diamond to 1st base eventually, that isn’t the biggest disaster. 
But it would close off that position for any other all-bat player who comes along, perhaps a prospect such as Jorge Alfaro or Cornelius Randolph, and would create a hole in the future lineup at 3rd base.
If Franco indeed awoke to find full health and better defense under the tree, those will be gifts for not only himself, but also for the entire Phillies organization and the fan base. 
Those would be gifts that keep on giving all through the 2016 season, and well into the future.

Phillies Christmas 2015: Naughty or Nice?

While the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies team saw a bunch of players make Santa’s “Naughty” list, some actually made his “Nice” list for Christmas.

When a team finishes with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball, it’s easy to see why so many will be receiving a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings from the right jolly old elf this year.
But for a handful of the team’s players, enough positives were provided, enough thrills given to the loyal fans who stayed with the team through a third successive dismal campaign, that they earned their Christmas gifts.
Not every player made it to either list. In fact, most of the players had performances or roles that were so inconsequential that they will be receiving neither coal nor great presents. Maybe the man in the red suit will leave them a little something as a future incentive.
So who specifically found themselves relegated to this year’s “Naughty” list, and who made that “Nice” list? 
Well, I just happen to have contacts at the North Pole who provided this year’s list, faxing it down to me this afternoon.
I promised that I would not reveal the entire list. But I was given permission to reveal the status of a half-dozen key members of the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies ball club. 
So here are those six members of the team, and on which list their name appears.