Second place is realistic for Phillies in 2018
by Scott Butler 1/6/18

Phillies Celebrate Win

Let's start with this: the Phillies were 38-38 in their last 76 games last season.

Yes, that's nearly a half a season of .500 baseball.

How did the other teams in the division do over their last 86 games, you ask? Well, here's the NL East standings over the last 86:

NATIONALS 46 29 --
PHILLIES 38 38 8
MARLINS 37 39 9
METS 31 45 15
BRAVES 30 46 16

The Nationals still have a stranglehold on the division once again, but it's hard to argue the Phillies should take a back seat to any other team, especially given the improvements they have already made to the roster. So far this off season, the Phillies added Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek, and Tommy Hunter, while swapping out Freddy Galvis for J.P. Crawford. They have far outclassed the rest of the division this off season:

The Mets have done nothing so far to improve their club.

The Marlins traded perhaps the best hitter on the planet (Giancarlo Stanton), along with Marcel Ozuna and Dee Gordon, and they might not be done yet as they try to shed salary.

The Braves had their hands slapped, like red skin kinda slapped, for their international shadiness, and haven't done much, either.

If we were to dig no deeper, there's no reason to think the Phillies can't improve upon their strong finish, at least compared to the other NL East squads. Second place is a real possibility. I'm not saying playoffs, but second place is not a bad place to be.

Second is far from a lock, though. With a young team like this with very little in the way of proven track records, the range of possibilities with the Phils is huge.

Rhys Hoskins could be a budding superstar in the making, as his record setting start demonstrated. But, as anyone who watched Domonic Brown could tell you, that early success can be gone in a flash.

Nick Williams, with his natural athleticism and talent has all-star potential, but his approach to the plate (5.8 percent walk-rate and 28.3 percent strikeout-rate) and a slightly long swing could also make for a disappointing sophomore season.

J.P. Crawford was impressive defensively last season and, as advertised, he controlled the strike zone (.356 on-base percentage, 16 walks compared to 22 strikeouts). But he also hit just .214 with 87 plate appearances.

Jorge Alfaro had a nice offensive push with the big club, but he also has major holes and his defense is poor at this point.

That's a lot of variability.

The bullpen stacks up to be pretty solid with the additions of Neshek and Hunter to go along with Hector Neris, as well as impressive contributions from Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan. Those last two are major wild cards to focus on with the Phillies pushing this rebuild forward. Did Garcia figure it out? Has Morgan's velocity increase made him a serious lefty threat out of the 'pen? Or are will they both revert to marginal relievers at best, as they had been throughout their careers?

And the start pitching? Behind Aaron Nola, they might as well have Moe, Larry, and Curly. There's plenty of potential with Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, but very little in the way of performance for a staff that could also include Zac Eflin, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, and Thomas Eshelman.

Aaron Nola was a stud of all studs for a while, and if he is healthy it would be surprising if he is any worse than a solid number 2 starter. But the uncertainty with the rest of the starting staff is why the Phillies will have a hard time reaching .500 this season.

Regardless of where you think they will finish, this is such a fun part of the rebuild. There are no real expectations and a whole lot to look forward a second place finish in 2018.

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