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Cesar Hernandez is holding off critics with a hot start to the 2019 season

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Cesar Hernandez has been hitting well for over a month

This piece has to begin with a disclaimer. Few writers who cover the Philadelphia Phillies on a regular basis have been more critical of second baseman Cesar Hernandez over the last couple of years than yours truly.

If I’ve called for the Phillies to jettison Hernandez and install Scott Kingery as the starting second baseman once, I’ve done it a hundred times since the winter prior to the 2018 campaign.
Hernandez registered career highs of 15 homers, 60 RBIs, and 91 runs scored. He led the Phillies with 19 stolen bases, tying his career high mark.
However, Hernandez slashed just .220/.321/.332 over the 2018 season’s final two full months. The Phillies were in first place and 11 games over the .500 mark when his poor hitting began in earnest on July 29. By the time it all officially came to an end on September 29, the club had finished in third place. They were 10 games out, and produced a sixth consecutive losing season.
Hernandez wasn’t the only reason for that 2018 collapse. Not by a long shot. But he was consistently unproductive. Many of the other players who made up the bulk of the losing during the previous few seasons were gone already. Freddy Galvis, Dom Brown, Cody AscheJohn Mayberry Jr, Cameron RuppTommy Joseph. All either released or traded away.
The 24-year-old Kingery had struggled in his first taste of the big-leagues last season, but also had been forced out of position to shortstop for most of the year, a position he had never previously played. Kingery had been a star in the minor leagues during the 2017 season, after which he was signed to a club-friendly long-term contract.
The Phillies looked to make wholesale changes to their lineup entering the 2019 campaign. Trades brought in a new shortstop in Jean Segura and a new catcher in J.T. Realmuto. Both Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper were signed to take over the corner outfield spots. Rhys Hoskins was moved back to his more natural first base position.
The idea that the Phillies could upgrade the second base position as well was a natural for those of us in the anti-Cesar camp. Find a taker for a player who would turn 29-years-old this year. Turn the Keystone over to Kingery at his own natural position, where he had won a 2017 minor league Gold Glove.
The calls got even louder as the first few weeks of 2019 unfolded. Kingery came out blazing hot, slashing .406/.457/.719 over his first 14 games. Meanwhile, Hernandez was slashing just .246/.329/.391 with just five extra-base hits over his own first 18 games.
All of the talk came to an end on April 20. The previous day, Hernandez had gone 0-6 in a 4-3, 12-inning loss at Colorado. But Kingery had gotten hurt, straining his right hamstring in the same game. He would be placed on the Injured List and miss a full month.
Whether a coincidence or not, Hernandez seemed to thrive with no one breathing down his neck. He went 2-5 and drove in a run with a double as the Phillies downed the Rockies by 8-5 and has not stopped hitting ever since.
From that April 20 game at Coors Field through last night’s three-hit game at Wrigley Field, Hernandez has been on fire. He has slashed .353/.407/.529 during a stretch of 28 games. In a lineup known for striking out, Hernandez has whiffed just 15 times during this hot streak.
Hernandez is now on pace to deliver a season of 14 homers, 70 RBIs, 77 runs scored, and 10 steals while hitting mostly from the bottom third of manager Gabe Kapler‘s batting order. He is hitting .310 with a .375 on-base percentage, trailing just Segura in the former category, tied with McCutchen for second on the team in the latter.
Defensively, this has not been a stellar season for Hernandez. He has already committed five errors, and anyone watching on a regular basis has seen him involved in at least a handful more misplays. He currently ranks just 13th in the big-leagues by Fangraphs at the second base position.
Hernandez is not a star, and he is not irreplaceable. His 2.5 WAR total among all those who have played at least 50% of the time as a big-league second baseman since last year’s All-Star Game ranks him just 19th in the game in that time. Over more than 2,800 career plate appearances he has just 36 homers and a .739 OPS.
Also, for someone who appears to possess the flat-out speed to do much more, he simply doesn’t steal enough. On top of that, Hernandez has committed a number of blunders as a baserunner to leave fans frequently cratching their heads or screaming out in all-caps on social media. He isn’t horrible, but man can he be frustrating with the glove and on the bases. A switch to the more talented Kingery at some point is going to be inevitable.
But that time is not now. Phillies fans, myself included, need to back off Hernandez. He is scratching out base hits, and in the process is helping the club to win ball games while also elevating his potential trade value. Whether such a deal happens this season or in the next off-season is irrelevant. For now, the only call from fans should be to ring out: “Hail, Cesar!”

J.P. Crawford becomes latest phenom promoted by Phillies

Crawford becomes latest Phillies phenom given a shot in 2017
At first blush, 2017 would appear to be yet another in a recent string of Philadelphia Phillies lost seasons. It has been six years since the last winning Phillies club. This will be the team’s fifth straight season finishing last or next-to-last in the NL East Division.
Any outsider who simply peers at the standings and sees their 52-85 record, the worst in Major League Baseball, could be excused for not realizing that something more is going on here. But it is.
While the Phillies are indeed 33 games below the .500 mark, a glance at their game results table reveals improvement. The club has registered a 23-25 mark since dropping the first two games out of the MLB All-Star break in mid-July.
On August 10, Rhys Hoskins was promoted from AAA Lehigh Valley. The 24-year old natural first baseman was hitting for a .284/.385/.581 slash line at time with the IronPigs. He would ultimately be named both the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player of the International League.
Three days after entering the lineup as a left fielder, Hoskins registered his first big league hit. A day later, he drove his first two big league home runs out of Citizens Bank Park.
The show was on. In 105 plate appearances over 25 games, the rookie has hit for a .307/.419/.750 slash. He has also bashed a dozen homers, driven in 25 runs, scored 22 times, and become the team’s cleanup hitter. Hoskins was named the National League Rookie of the Month for August.

ALFARO AND WILLIAMS SHOW THEY BELONG

Also up from Lehigh Valley in August, Jorge Alfaro entered the lineup for the first time on August 5. Within a week he was sharing the catching duties evenly with veteran Cameron Rupp.
Alfaro has hit for a .340/.375/.434 slash. While he still has work to do as a backstop, Alfaro has shown that he is more than ready to take on the full-time job beginning with the 2018 season.
Nick Williams preceded those two in getting his promotion from the AAA ranks. Stepping into the lineup for good on July 1, Williams has mostly sparkled on defense while showing that his bat is big league ready.
Williams turns 24 years old this coming weekend. Over 241 plate appearances this season he has a .271/.332/.468 slash line with eight homers, 35 RBI, and 33 runs scored. Only once has he gone as many as three games without recording a hit.
That the Phillies have shown improvement in the 2017 season’s second half is directly attributable to the improvement in their lineup brought particularly by these three players.

CRAWFORD JOINS THE SHOW

Now, another is getting his shot, and there is a chance that he may be the best of them all. Shortstop J.P. Crawford was once the top prospect in baseball, and was the top prospect in the Phillies organization for a few consecutive years.
Crawford went into a deep funk, and a number of alleged experts began to write him off as an impactful prospect earlier this season.
But then suddenly, it all clicked back in for the 22-year old. Since May 26, Crawford has hit .275/.380/.494 with 14 homers, 49 RBI, and 57 runs scored.
On Labor Day, Crawford punctuated his comeback with a huge two-run, first-inning home run. The blast helped Lehigh Valley bolt to an early 4-0 lead. The club would ultimately hang on for a 4-3 victory, clinching a berth in the AAA playoffs.
Rather than continue his journey with the IronPigs, Crawford was rewarded with an even better prize. The Phillies made the phone call for which he had been waiting his entire life, to come join the big league team.
Tonight, Crawford will join Williams, Hoskins, and Alfaro in the visitor’s dugout at Citi Field in New York as the Phillies take on the host New York Mets. They will spend the final three and a half weeks of the 2017 season together enjoying life in Major League Baseball.

BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has made a number of Phillies fans, myself included, very happy right away. All four of the talented rookies will be in the starting lineup together on Tuesday night, albeit a couple of them a bit out of position.
Hoskins continues to start in left field, where he has actually fared well. The skipper continues to give Tommy Joseph and his awful .240/.290.430 slash line regular first base at-bats.
Crawford will play third base, a position where he had been given some recent action with Lehigh Valley. With Freddy Galvis playing a Gold Glove caliber shortstop this year in Philly, and with regular third baseman Maikel Franco continuing to struggle, it is entirely understandable.
But wherever they are playing in the short term, the fact remains that the Phillies rebuilding program is kicking into high gear as the 2017 season winds down. This is the true beginning of the beginning for the Phillies.
It may not be continuous smooth sailing from here on out, but the direction should prove to be steadily upwards in the National League standings.

Phillies winning spurts tempered by lessons of history

The Phillies have won eight of their last 12 games
The Philadelphia Phillies walked off the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night. The 4-3 victory in eleven innings gave the Fightin’ Phils their eighth win in the last dozen games.
Despite the hot stretch of winning baseball over these last two weeks, the Phillies remain in last place in the NL East Division standings.
The Phillies are 24 games behind the first place Washington Nationals. They sit 20.5 games out in the National League Wildcard race. The Phils are even 10.5 games behind the two teams tied for fourth in the division, the Braves and the New York Mets.
I’ve noticed a pattern with these little winning spurts by the Phillies in recent years. When they start winning, all is right in the world. Not only for the players and manager Pete Mackanin, but also fans and the media who follow the team on a regular basis.
When the Phillies are winning, social media explodes with platitudes for the current players, extolling their skills and feats. Talk begins of players in their mid-upper 20’s who will be part of the “winning future” core.
As someone who has always considered themselves a “glass half-full” personality, it pains me to add the “but” to this piece. It’s something that I learned a long time ago, an old saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

MR. KLENTAK, MEET MR. SANTAYANA

Many have heard the saying, or some variant of it, at some point in their lives. It comes from philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) and his 1905-06 “The Life of Reason” project.
The full quotation leading to that famed finish actually goes as follows: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Phillies have indeed seen a great deal of change in recent years, all of it necessary. However, GM Matt Klentak and the club’s fan base cannot make the mistake of settling for what they are seeing in short, winning spurts. The change must continue, and it must strike at the heart of this current lineup.
Over the last three years, the Phillies have gone with a core lineup that features Maikel FrancoOdubel HerreraCameron RuppFreddy Galvis, and Cesar Hernandez.
None of these players is to blame for all of the losing. Each of these players has redeeming qualities as a ball player. Galvis can be sensational defensively. Franco has legitimate power. Rupp is a typical catching field general. Hernandez has speed and makes good contact. Herrera is the most talented, and perhaps conversely the most maddening.

LENGTHY LOSING FOLLOWS BRIEF WINNING

The problem with these players, as I have visited in the past, is that they are wildly inconsistent, both individually and as a unit. What it has led to over these last three years is a dysfunctional mix that cannot win consistently.
From April 15-27 this year, the Phillies won eight of ten, lifting their overall record to 11-9. They proceeded to lose 26 of their next 32 games. Prior to this recent win stretch, they had dropped seven of eight.
Last year they played hot for most of the first seven weeks of the season. On May 18, their 24-17 record left them just a half-game off the division lead. The Phils proceeded to drop 26 of their next 32 and never recovered.
That 2016 team would capture eight of 12 games between August 2-14. They went just 15-28 the rest of the season, losing eight of their final 10 games.
In 2015, the first season that the current position player core spent together, there was a six-game win streak in mid-May. The team then dropped 24 of their next 30 contests.
After the 2015 MLB All-Star break, the Phillies came out firing. The club won the first four straight, nine of 10, and 15 of 20 games. It made for a fun stretch of baseball from mid-July through early August.
By the end of August and into September, however, they found themselves dropped 20 of 26 games en route to a last place finish. That season finally saw the end of the Ruben Amaro era, after manager Ryne Sandberg quit on the club less than halfway through the campaign.

MORE CHANGE NEEDED TO CHANGE HISTORY

The point here is to remind fans that this will not last. This current Phillies lineup is simply not constructed to win over months of play. They are simply not that good, at least not consistently. The likelihood is that a fairly long stretch of losing is coming, and probably beginning soon.
I want the Phillies to win. I root for them now, as I have since discovering the existence of the team and the game all the way back in 1971 at age nine. But these 46 years of watching Phillies baseball, and especially these last three years, have taught me valuable lessons.
There has been some recent change. Over the last few days, Klentak has done what was expected as the MLB trade deadline approaches. He dealt away veterans Jeremy Hellickson, Pat Neshek, and Howie Kendrick. That will hopefully open some playing time opportunities for youngsters who might truly become pieces of the club’s long term future.
But those recent deals are not enough. The Phillies will not win again on a consistent, season-long basis until they turn the page from this current position player core group. Until those wholesale changes happen, enjoy the wins when they come, but realize the good times are sure to end soon. That is the lesson of recent Phillies history.

Phillies rebuild reaches difficult transition phase

Hernandez, Herrera, Galvis part of recent losing core
For a fifth consecutive year, the Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of a miserable season.

The glorious winning decade of success from 2001-2011 reclaimed old fans and captivated a new generation of younger fans. All of that glory and excitement is now, sadly, a faded memory.

The collapse of that Phillies era came shockingly fast. Age, injuries, and poor decisions by the previous management regime conspired to erase any hope of a seemless transition into another generation of similar success.
For a couple of years, the Phillies went through a necessary transformation. There were purges everywhere, from the roster to the front office, even up to control of the ownership group.
The new regime took over where the old had ended, completing the job of turning the page from that faded former glory. As new prospects were brought in via trade and the MLB Amateur Draft, the farm system gradually regained respect from the wider baseball industry.
During the transitional period, a group of players has been taking the field for a few years now as the core of the Phillies lineup. That core group has not experienced very much success.

THE LOSING CORE

Those players include catcher Cameron Rupp, who turns 29 years old in two months. Rupp has been the starter behind the plate for most of the last two and a half seasons.
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez and shortstop Freddy Galvis, both 27 years old now, are each in their third season as the starting Keystone combo.
Center fielder Odubel Herrera is 25 years of age. ‘El Torito’ is in his third starting season as well. Third baseman Maikel Franco, who turns 25 a month from now, is now in his third season as the primary starter at the hot corner.
For the vast majority of the last three seasons, that core of Rupp, Hernandez, Galvis, Herrera, and Franco have been written into the Phillies starting lineup.
In 2015 they finished 63-99, the worst record in Major League Baseball. They barely avoiding becoming the first Phillies team in more than a half-century to lose 100 or more games.
In 2016 they “improved” to 71-91, and thus finished ahead of seven of MLB’s other 29 teams. There was hope that maybe, just maybe, they were taking a step forward. Alas, it was not to be.
Thus far in 2017 the Phillies are 35-64, which is back to being the worst record in all of baseball. There has been no progress shown down at Citizens Bank Park. Not by the team as a whole, and not by this core group of players who remain regulars in the starting lineup.

PHILLIES NEED SOLUTIONS, NOT EXCUSES

I constantly read and hear writers and broadcasters extolling the virtues of one or the other of these players. Those platitudes usually come during some hot streak of play.
What I rarely, if ever, see addressed by those same people watching this mess is the totality of their efforts.

The fact is that with this Phillies core, the proof is in the pudding. They have been the core now into this third season. The team is a combined 85 games below the .500 mark in that time.

You can nitpick all you want and say that it isn’t all their fault. Yes, a couple have been injured for stretches and missed some of that time. Yes, the team has been transitioning on the mound as well. We all know that pitching is at least half of the puzzle.
But the fact is that a large share of the blame for the Phillies consistently poor play these last three years rests with the lineup core. They simply aren’t very good big league ballplayers.
Let’s look at their career slash lines. Rupp carries a .239/.302/.409 line. Hernandez is at .281/.349/.368, Galvis has a .243/.284/.378 line. Herrera slashes .286/.344/.424, and Franco has a .249/.304/.427 line.
That’s five of your eight starting position players doing nothing special. That comes to thousands of plate appearances over three years accomplishing little on a consistent basis.

PROSPECTS ARE NEARLY READY FOR THEIR SHOT

Some of the Phillies most exciting prospects are nearly ready to advance from the minor leagues. By no later than spring training of 2018, second baseman Scott Kingery and shortstop J.P. Crawford will be ready to begin trying to approximate what Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins did in the middle of the Phillies infield a decade earlier.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins is ready right now for his shot. But the Phillies keep giving at-bats to Tommy Joseph, who is slashing .253/.312/.453 for the season, and just .233/.299/.457 since mid-June.
I have real concerns that the Phillies brain trust does not recognize that their recent/current core players are simply a dysfunctional group of placeholders.

Maybe worse, perhaps management recognizes it, but has invested so much in publicizing these players that they have already written off the 2017 season completely, and are willing to just let it die.

TIME TO TURN THE PAGE

Rupp should be traded right now. Hernandez and Galvis need to be dealt away by early next season at the latest. Me? I’d be floating Herrera’s name right now. Franco is the only one of the current core who I would keep around and factor into my 2018 plans.
I don’t think that the Phillies will suddenly become a winning team if the prospects are called up. I don’t even think that 2018 will be a winning season if the kids take over for the current core.
What is certain is that Phillies baseball will be far more exciting when fans believe they are watching the future develop in front of them. Nick Williams is demonstrating the possibilities. But right now, he is a lone bright light.
Williams is also a good example of the problem. He had been hitting for weeks, and his overall game had obviously improved right from the start of the AAA season. Yet he only got the call due to injuries at the big league level.
Will Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail be able to move on from this losing core by will, and not simply wait for circumstance?

Due they have the stomach to look beyond the positives that the current core players have in certain areas of their games, and give the full-time opportunities needed by the younger, higher upside kids?

The next phase of the Phillies rebuilding program may be the hardest, coming in the closing weeks of this season and into next spring.

Moving on from core players who have been here, holding down the fort for 2-3-4 difficult, losing years. But it is a necessary phase, one that it is the management team’s job to see through successfully.

Phillies need to be bold at the trade deadline

NL All-Star reliever Neshek will be dealt by end of July
The Philadelphia Phillies are barreling down streak towards the July 31 MLB trade deadline with numerous rumors beginning to swirl around the team.
Most of the speculation revolves around the obvious players. Anyone 30+ years of age who is a pending free agent is likely to move.
The list includes starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, relievers Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, and outfielders Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava.
Another possibility to move is catcher Cameron Rupp,  already losing playing time to Andrew Knapp behind the dish. If Rupp is dealt, the Phils could call up Logan Moorefrom AAA Lehigh Valley to serve as the backup while Jorge Alfaro continues to start with the IronPigs.
Can Phillies fans expect their team to receive anything of any substance in exchange for any of these players in any trade? The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding “no” to that question.

POSSIBLE RETURNS IN VETERAN DEALS

It was pointed out to me today that in August of 2014 the Phillies were able to unload then 33-year old reliever Roberto Hernandez on the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that deal, the club received the old “players to be named later” as a return.
When those PTBNL were actually named, they turned out to be infielder Jesmuel Valentin and pitcher Victor Arano. Nearly three years later, neither player has appeared in the big leagues. And neither looks as if they will any time soon, if ever.
Valentin is currently on the DL at AAA Lehigh Valley following May surgery to repair a separated shoulder. The 23-year old is a career .261 hitter with 24 home runs and 49 stolen bases over 1,856 minor league plate appearances.
Arano is a 22-year old currently pitching out of the AA Reading bullpen. The right-hander is having a good season. But he also currently ranks just 21st on the MLB Phillies top prospects list.
That kind of return for Rupp, Kendrick, Nava, or Benoit would have to be considered a jackpot. Hellickson or Neshek could bring back perhaps a decent prospect, but is unlikely to yield anyone who will truly impact the future.
Is there any deal that GM Matt Klentak and the rest of the Phillies brain trust put together that could potentially impact that future? Perhaps.
Would the Phillies move two young, affordable players previously considered part of the future? Could either Maikel Franco or Odubel Herrera be traded away at this point in their careers?

PHILLIES GM NEEDS TO BE BOLD

Frankly, Klentak should be open to anything. I think back to the mid-70’s and the Phillies of my youth, remembering a particular key deal involving a core player in the prime of his career.
On May 4, 1975 the Phillies GM Paul Owens shipped away 27-year old first baseman Willie Montanez to the San Francisco Giants. In exchange, San Francisco sent a 25-year old center fielder to Philly by the name of Garry Maddox.
Maddox would play more than a decade for the Phillies. He would win the first of eight career Gold Glove awards that first year. He was a key player on five NL East champs and the 1980 World Series champions. In 2001, Maddox was honored with a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
Those are the types of deals that the best general managers are able to pull off at some point. Klentak should be completely open to dealing Franco or Herrera. Same goes for either Cesar Hernandez, or Freddy Galvis if it brings back real talent.
The Phillies do have pieces to deal as the 2017 MLB trade deadline approaches. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on getting anything of long term value in return. There will be nothing to excite Phillies fans later this month – unless Klentak gets truly bold.