Philadelphia Phillies 2016 Grades: Infielders

When the 2016 season opened there were many question marks across the infield, with 3rd baseman Maikel Franco the only player who seemed a reliable source of production.
But as the season unfolded, the infielders mostly answered those questions in a positive fashion. 
In fact, Franco may have been the most disappointing player among the regular performers.
Back in spring training there was hope that a platoon of veteran Ryan Howard and perennially underachieving Darin Ruf would provide combined solid production.
In the middle infield, no one knew what to expect out of 2nd baseman Cesar Hernandez besides perhaps a 20+ stolen base year, and Freddy Galvis was just keeping shortstop warm until the arrival of top prospect J.P. Crawford.
In the middle, both Hernandez and Galvis upped their offensive games, though Hernandez often was as maddening on base paths as he was dangerous to the opposition.As it turned out, there was a very productive 1st base platoon. 
But it was the pleasant surprise of Tommy Joseph, called up in May after a hot start with the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who produced from the right side of that platoon with Howard.
Those five players received the overwhelming majority of the playing time in the infield. Only one backup player, Andres Blanco, received enough time to warrant a final grade here.
So let’s take a look at the 2016 grades for Howard, Joseph, Hernandez, Galvis, Franco, and Blanco.
I am guessing that it will be the last Phillies grade that I ever bestow on “The Big Piece”, who is going to be leaving as a free agent. Because of his place in club history, I will grade him last.
READ ORIGINAL article at That Ball’s Outta Here for full grading.

Tigers and Mariners Fight From Behind in AL Wildcard Race

We have reached the final weekend of the Major League Baseball regular season schedule, and there are still two playoff berths undecided in the American League with four teams involved.
In fact, there is a possibility that at least one of those AL Wild Card berths will not even be decided this weekend.
Because the Detroit Tigers, who sit a game back in the loss column, were rained out on Thursday against the Minnesota Twins, that game may need to be made up on Monday if it is necessary.
As play begins on Friday night, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays are tied for control of the two spots with identical 87-72 records.
Sitting that game back in the loss column are the Tigers with a record of 85-73. And then lurking just behind them are the Seattle Mariners with their 85-74 mark.

The M’s have the most difficult path. They are likely going to need to win out and hope for help from the other clubs losing.
Seattle will be at home on the final weekend, hosting the AL West Division rival Oakland Athletics for three games.
The Mariners have Taijuan WalkerHisashi Iwakuma and King Felix Hernandez lined up, so they are putting their best feet forward on the mound against the visiting A’s at Safeco Field.
Detroit has an unusual season-ending Interleague series, and it won’t be an easy one. While the standings show that the Atlanta Braves are in last place in the NL East, they are not the same team that created the bulk of that poor record.
The Braves will be hosting the Tigers this weekend for what will be the final series ever held at Turner Field, and Atlanta has now won 10 of its last 11 games.
Daniel NorrisJordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander will take the mound for the Motown men, while the Braves counter with youngsters Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, followed by ace Julio Teheran in Sunday’s finale.
Holding their share of the lead, the Orioles will visit Yankee Stadium and finish the season in the Bronx against a Yankees club that was eliminated yesterday.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter has Yovani Gallardo going on Friday night, but it remains unknown who he will turn to for the rest of the weekend.
The Yanks’ Joe Girardi will throw Michael Pineda on Friday, but is similarly uncommitted for the rest of the weekend.
And finally up in Boston at Fenway Park, the AL East champion Red Sox will host the Jays, who will try to hold on to their own share of the Wild Card lead.
Toronto sends Marco Estrada on Friday night, but the Blue Jays have not yet announced their Saturday and Sunday starters. The BoSox will try to knock them from the postseason with Rick PorcelloEduardo Rodriguez and David Price.
Five days. Five stadiums. Five must-win games. This is one potential scenario for the Detroit Tigers after their final home game of the season was postponed on Thursday.
That was how SB Nation’s Rob Rogacki described the most outrageous potential scenario involving the Tigers for the “Bless You Boys” site.
There remains the possibility of a three- or four-team tie at the end of the weekend, including the extra Detroit game on Monday.
That would set up a series of playoff games next week just to get into the actual MLB postseason. It could well be a wild weekend before we even get into that Wild Card game. Hang on to your seats, baseball fans.

Philadelphia Phillies 2016 Grades: Outfielders

There is probably a wide swath of the larger Philadelphia sports fan base who were not paying much attention to the Phillies during the month of September.

Unless you are, like myself, one of the hard cores who follows closely year ’round no matter the circumstances, you missed something significant and exciting.

That exciting and significant development was the somewhat unexpected promotion and insertion into the regular lineup of outfield prospect Roman Quinn following the conclusion of the minor league playoffs.

The 23-year old speedster has worked his way towards the top of the Fightin’ Phils batting order, producing four stolen bases and eight runs scored over his first 65 plate appearances over 14 games, 13 of those as a starter.
Those may not sound overly impressive at first blush. But extrapolated out over a full season at the top of the order, and we are talking about a likely base line of 40 stolen bases and 80 runs scored for the switch-hitter.
I’ve been harping the talents of Quinn for the past couple of years, so the fact that I am a fanboy is no surprise to anyone who follows.
He is also weighed down by a .226 batting average that is sure to increase by at least 50 points as he adjusts to the big league level. His on-base percentage of .349 is already acceptable.
But I believe that anyone who has watched his speed on the bases and that same speed as well as his throwing arm in the outfield now is well aware that I haven’t been selling a bill of goods. Quinn is the real deal, and he is the Phillies future in center field.
Quinn is one of seven Phils outfielders for whom I am going to provide a grade for their 2016 performance.

I’ll be leaving out a quartet of relatively inconsequential players who each received fewer than 100 plate appearances: Darin RufDavid LoughEmmanuel Burriss, and Cedric Hunter.
The seven who will receive grades are Quinn, Odubel HerreraPeter BourjosTyler GoeddelCody AscheAaron Altherr, and Jimmy Paredes. So let’s begin with the dispensing of their 2016 report card grades.
SEE ORIGINAL article at That Ball’s Outta Here for grading breakdown.

Philadelphia Phillies 2016 Grades: Catchers

Entering the 2016 MLB regular season, the catching position appeared to be one in which the Phillies were in a holding pattern at the big league level while the organization waited for a pair of top prospects to develop further.
The likely starter was going to be Cameron Rupp, with longtime veteran Carlos Ruizserving as the backup until such time as he was traded away to some contender.
At that point, if not sooner, catching prospect Andrew Knapp would be promoted to the Phillies to begin his own big league career.
Knapp had been one of the 2015 Phillies organizational Paul Owens Award winners, the top hitting prospect in the club’s minor league system last season.
Also down in the minor leagues, one of the pieces obtained from Texas in last year’s big Cole Hamels trade was catcher Jorge Alfaro, who was seen by many as even more talented than Knapp, though further away developmentally.
Rupp wasn’t seen by most as much more than a backup catcher at the Major League level, hitting for just a .233/.301/.374 slash line across 299 plate appearances a year ago in his first significant, regular playing time.
As could be expected, these last six months since the club was sorting it all out back at spring training in Clearwater have been a mixed bag where those catching expectations are concerned.

However, Rupp had drilled nine home runs in that time, demonstrating that he could likely be counted on for 15-20 homers if given the position on a full-time basis for the entire season.
The most disappointing result at the catching position this year is easily the stalling out, at least for now, of Knapp at the AAA level.
After hitting for a combined .308/.385/.491 slash line with 13 homers, 84 RBI, and 77 runs scored at High-A Clearwater and AA Reading in 2015, Knapp fell off to .266/.330/.390 with eight homers, 46 RBI, and 55 runs scored with AAA Lehigh Valley this season. He never reached Philly.
Ruiz was finally dealt away at the end of August to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In return the Phillies received veteran catcher A.J. Ellis, along with minor leaguers Tommy Bergjans and Joey Curletta.
Ellis was a bit of a surprising addition to the deal, and both Dodgers fans and his teammates were disappointed to see him go to the Phillies. He provided a nice backup to Rupp over this past month.
So let’s give a grade to the four players who did see catching time this year with the Fightin’ Phils: Rupp, Ruiz, Ellis, and Alfaro.
SEE ORIGINAL article at That Ball’s Outta Here for grading breakdown.

Phillies Were Dominated by Jose Fernandez

We are going to remember Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez forever. He is going to remain young in those memories forever.
That is one of the elements when such a tragically devastating loss happens involving a young person. They are frozen in time in their youth.
Fernandez left behind much more than that youthful image. He is leaving behind a team and a fan base, in fact the entire baseball world, in shocked mourning.
He is also leaving behind a baby to be born in the coming months, one who will never know his or her father, other than through pictures and videos. There will be many of those for the child to view as he or she grows up.
As this is a Philadelphia Phillies fan site, I wanted to just take a few minutes to examine the dominance that Fernandez displayed against his division rivals to the north, as a snap shot of the way he dominated lineups across the entire baseball world.
Fernandez went 38-17 over 76 starts in parts of just four seasons in Major League Baseball.
Fernandez allowed 357 hits across 471.1 innings, with a 2.58 career ERA, a 1.054 WHIP, a 150 ERA+ mark, a 2.43 FIP, and a  phenomenal 589/140 K:BB ratio.
The native of Cuba who came to the United States in 2008 and finally became a U.S. citizen in May of 2015 was the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year.
He finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young voting for that 2013 season, and Fernandez was an NL All-Star in both 2013 and again this season.
Thanks largely to missing most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, the 24-year old Fernandez made only a half-dozen starts against the NL East Division-rival Phillies.
In those six starts against the Phils, Fernandez went 1-1 with a 2.88 ERA and 1.019 WHIP. He allowed 24 hits in just 34.1 innings pitched against the Fightins, with a typically strong 42/11 K:BB ratio.
Despite the injury and surgery, Fernandez was able to make at least one start in each of his four seasons against the Phillies.

In 2013, he was particularly dominant, going 1-0 with a 0.50 ERA over three starts with a 16/4 K:BB ratio.
His second career start came on April 13th, 2013 at Marlins Park against the Phils. He paced the Fish to a 2-1 victory that night, allowing just two hits over six shutout frames.
Less than a month later, on May 4th, 2013 at Citizens Bank Park, Fernandez earned the very first win of his big league career.
On that night, Fernandez was thoroughly dominating, and he needed to be, facing Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who was strong himself.
Fernandez allowed just one hit, a one-out single in the bottom of the 1st inning toFreddy Galvis, and shut the Phils out over seven innings while striking out nine and walking just one batter.
Hamels allowed just four hits over eight innings, striking out six and walking no one. But the Marlins bullpen combo of Mike Dunn and Steve Cishek kept the Phillies off the board, earning Fernandez that first career victory.
A little more than two weeks later, Fernandez was again strong, holding the Phils to just one run on five hits.
But trailing 1-0, he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 5th. The Phillies would get to the Marlins bullpen, pulling away to a 7-3 win in Miami.
Amazingly, after facing the Phillies three times over the season’s first seven weeks, that would be the final time that he would face the team in the 2013 season.
His turn in the rotation just never matched up with Phillies and Marlins matchups over the ensuing four months that summer.
On April 11th in the 2014 season, the Phillies jumped on Fernandez for six earned runs on eight hits, driving Fernandez from the game after just four innings. He struck out six, but also walked four batters that day.
That game was the only bad one for Fernandez until his start on May 9th against the San Diego Padres. On that day, at just 21 years of age, he would make his final start, succumbing to the TJ surgery.
He was strong on that night at Citizens Bank Park, allowing the Phils just two earned runs and four hits across six innings, striking out six and walking one.Fernandez finally returned to the mound in early July of the 2015 season, and would make just one start against the Phillies last year, on July 17th.
But Adam Morgan also was strong that night, and again the Phillies jumped the Fish bullpen, scoring four times in the bottom of the 8th inning to pull away to a 6-3 win.
This season, Fernandez once again made just a single start against the Phillies.
On July 18th at Citizens Bank Park, the righty put his full dominance on display, striking out 14 batters in leading the Marlins to a 3-2 victory.
There are no words to describe the magnitude of his loss to the game of baseball. Competitively, it is a devastating blow to a divisional rival, one that significantly shortens the distance between the 3rd place Marlins and the rebuilding 4th place Phillies.
But I am sure that all Phillies fans join me in feeling that we would rather have him back out there on the mound for Miami. We would much rather beat him than lose him this way.
Jose Fernandez was a great, great pitcher in Major League Baseball. He was a tremendous obstacle within the division for the Fightin’ Phils. And now, at far, far too young an age, Jose Fernandez is gone.
May he rest in peace, and may his family and close friends, especially that young child-to-be, receive comfort and love during this most difficult time of sudden, devastating loss.