Cole Hamels said at one point this offseason that he wanted to get out of Philly in any way possible. Jonathan Papelbon has said too much since joining the Phillies in 2012. Chase Utley doesn’t say much of anything, he does. Only this season, he hasn’t been doing much of anything either.
These are the players on the roster that many turn to for the positive results on the field and the comments off it. These are the leaders of the 2015 Phillies by seniority.
But the real leaders are doing their part of the field, and it’s become more noticeable during a six-game winning streak for the Phillies that was snapped on an eighth-inning home run in Colorado on Tuesday night.
Jeff Francoeur and Aaron Harang are perfect for the Phillies and their presence is bringing new life to a team that was believed to be as lifeless as it gets.
The Phillies first win of the season came in their second game on April 8. The final score was 4-2. Three runs scored on Francoeur’s first home run since June 16, 2013 in the sixth inning. There was a smile on his face the entire way around the bases.
"A lot of hitting is getting confidence. You get beat down, man. 2013 took a lot out of me to be honest with you. Even last year, just go out in Triple-A, but just to have fun again and play again," Francoeur said after hitting his first home run of the season. "Like I said, when I hit that one today, it was pretty cool just for the whole fact that you grind and you battle in this game, and when you get an opportunity you try to make the most of it."
That smile surfaced again when Francoeur was the hero of last Wednesday’s win over the Pirates, throwing out Steve Lombardozzi for a game-ending double play. That was the first of the Phillies six straight wins, their longest winning streak since 2012.
It’s contagious, Francoeur’s passion and energy for the game and the way he reacts to success.
Francoeur is hitting .225 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 34 games this season. It’s nothing earth shattering. In fact, it’s probably on par for the Phillies potential this season.
But Francoeur’s presence as a positive clubhouse guy is a breath of fresh air for this team that struggled through clubhouse adversity in the previous two seasons.
Similarly, you look at Tuesday night’s starter Harang. Harang has a 4-3 win-loss record, but a 1.82 ERA, which ranks fifth among all pitchers in baseball.
Like Francoeur, Harang was brought in on a one-year deal, just someone to fill out the rotation while the Phillies worked on the rebuilding process. Instead, he gives them a chance to win with every start.
This is not to say that the Phillies record and chances of success benefit any greater from having Harang on the mound. But it does increase his value and is a very insightful move.
And he too is a calming influence on younger teammates.
"I'm out there having fun," Harang said to NJ.com earlier in May. "I know what I can do. I know my limitations, but I know how to control myself when I get in tough situation and I try to stay positive.
"You find younger guys when they do make an error, they kind of get down on themselves. I gotta be out there, 'Hey, don't worry about it. I'll get you another one. You make the next play. Go up and give me a big knock, get an RBI, do something.' I just be that positive attitude out there to help them get through the rough stuff.
The Phillies needed players to fill voids on a short-term basis. But they can’t be just any players. They needed players who understood the state of the Phillies, who saw this as an opportunity to find another chance to play for a winning team by increasing trade value or just to get back into the majors.
For Francoeur, it’s been a long road back to the major leagues. For Harang, this is his tryout and he’s making the most of it.
And both of them are giving the Phillies younger players a prime lesson in making the best of a bad situation.
The Phillies seven-game winning streak isn’t a huge turnaround and it likely won’t turn into one. The Phillies had a five-game winning streak in June last season that was followed by losses in 13 of their next 16 games. It happened again in July. The Phillies won five straight, then lost 8 of their next 11 games.
The fall from a run of success with this team will likely be double. So enjoy the winning streak now and brace for the downfall later.
That said the rest of the Phillies have been able to buy in because of Francoeur and Harang, players who simply understand where the team is at and fit the team’s current state. Some positive clubhouse vibes never hurt any team, even the worst in the league.
Francoeur’s stay with the Phillies may only last one season. Harang’s will likely be shorter. But for now, they are the leaders of this team – not the Hamels, Utleys or Papelbons who have the track record or are starting to produce again on a nightly basis.
It’s the players who make the best of the situation the Phillies are in, embrace it and pass it on to younger teammates who will have to deal with it much longer than they will.
Kevin Durso is a contributing writer and editorial assistant for Philliedelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.