Breakout Teams this Season: Philadelphia Phillies
In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won their second World Series in franchise history. The next year, they were defeated in the Fall Classic by the New York Yankees. The year after, they lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship Series. The year after, they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Divisional Series. This downward trend would continue for the next few seasons and by 2015, the Phillies held the worst record in all of baseball.
What happened was a combination of terrible contract extensions on veterans from the championship squad that handicapped the team, the rise of division rivals in the Braves, the Nationals, and the Mets, and a farm system that was no longer churning out players like Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels. Philadelphia hitting the bottom of the league showed a painful, but necessary, rebuild that the team had to go through.
Following that abysmal 2015, the team's youth movement began to take shape as the roster's average age decreased from years ago. Between 2013-2016, players like Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrara, Nick Williams, Aaron Nola, and Maikel Franco all made their entrance into the big league.
It was fantastic to see that the team's commitment to rebuilding had seemed to pay off and Philadelphia was becoming a young team on the rise. 2017 was not going be a playoff year, but at the very least one could have reasonably hoped for a season close to .500.
The team finished once again in last in the NL East and their manager, Pete Mackanin, was let go at the season's end after receiving an extension earlier in the year.
Well then, at least Rhys Hoskins looks promising. Even that led to some hesitation internally because Hoskins' homerun rampage bought back memories of Domonic Brown. Remember him? Of course not.
Despite 2016 being a minor setback, the off-season was definitely an exciting one. Gabe Kapler was bought in as the manager and he looks like he could still hit one out of Citizens Bank. All-Stars in Carlos Santana and Jake Arietta were bought in the bolster the young hitting core and pitching staff. And Rhys Hoskins still looked amazing from his rookie campaign, hitting 18 home runs in 50 total games. This might be the .500 season that was hoped for last year.
Middle of August and the Phillies hold the top spot in the NL East. For the first time since the middle of the 2000s, all the young prospects Philadelphia had traded for and built through the farm system are paying off.
Arietta, the former ace of the Chicago Cubs and Cy Young winner, is the second best pitcher behind the third year wonder in Aaron Nola, who was Philadelphia's only All-Star this year. Hoskins has not cooled down since last year and is on pace to be the first Phillie to hit 30 dingers in a season since Ryan Howard in 2010.
Parts like Nick Williams, Jorge Alfredo, and Zach Eflin have shown reliability when called upon. For the first time in many years, the trade deadline saw the team bring in players instead of shipping them out. Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos both add bats to the September postseason push.
Philadelphia's bullpen has been their greatest weakness and was not really addressed at the deadline. Though Seranthony Dominguez seems to be the main closer, Kapler has used the hot hands through the season with arms like Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano. Also, Dominguez has blown two opportunities already this month.
The bullpen's performance will be the deciding factor whether the team finds themselves in October. That being said, it is nice to see the city of Philadelphia enjoying baseball again in the summer. The Phillies have seen their darkest days for a while and have come out the mud younger and prepare to battle with Atlanta for the NL East for the next few years.