After winning five straight National League East titles from 2007-2011, the five years of Philadelphia Phillies baseball since haven't been as kind, as the Phillies haven't managed to post a winning record once. With Ryan Howard gone, no players remain on the roster from the team that made it to the 2008 World Series.
With a bright future seemingly ahead due to the plethora of impressive prospects within the organization's minor league system, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin sees the potential for a better season with regard to the win-loss column:
Pete Mackanin's goal this season is to play .500. Would be a 10-win improvement from 2016.— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) January 18, 2017
First off, let's recognize that in the past few years, teams that have ascended to the top of the league have done so by winning 20 or more games than the previous years. The Oakland A's went 74-88 in 2011 before going 94-68 the next year in 2012, while the Chicago Cubs went 73-89 in 2014 before going 97-65 in 2015 and claiming a World Series title the next year.
Either way, a season of ten more wins than they won in 2016 remains the goal for Pete Mackanin's Phillies as he enters his second full year as the manager.
With the signing of OF Michael Saunders last week, the Phillies added two veteran bats to the roster just as Mackanin requested at the end of last season. Both Saunders and Howie Kendrick offer veteran protection in an otherwise young lineup.
While nothing is set-in-stone before Opening Day, both MLB.com Phillies reporter Todd Zolecki and CSNPhilly.com sportswriter Corey Seidman have predicted the same lineup they would open up the season with.
It goes as follows:
1) Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2) Howie Kendrick, LF
3) Odubel Herrera, CF
4) Maikel Franco, 3B
5) Michael Saunders, RF
6) Tommy Joseph, 1B
7) Cameron Rupp, C
8) Freddy Galvis, SS
Seeing as the Phillies Opening Day lineup last season against the Reds included the likes of Peter Bourjos and Cedric Hunter patrolling the warning track, the Phillies outfield appears more stable to say the least. Despite a disappointing second half of last season, Saunders still hit 24 home runs. The Phillies only got 13 total home runs from their RF's in 2016 all together. That's a significant upgrade.
Hernandez hit .313 from July 1 to the end of the 2016 season, showing he is more than capable of leading the top of lineup, so long as his mental mistakes on the base paths cease. Herrera was in the running for his first career Gold Glove award at seasons end and hit 15 HR's, nearly doubling his total from 2015. Kendrick, along with Saunders, helps put two veterans in a lineup with younger players that could use their help to mature at the plate, most notably Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph.
When all is said and done, the lineup does appear more solid. A 1-2-3 composed of Hernandez, Kendrick, and Herrera, all with high on-base percentages, sets up the 4-5-6 hitters of Franco, Saunders, and Joseph for more success during the 2017 season than it did the previous year.
This is a team that finished at or near the bottom of Major League Baseball in hits, home runs, RBI's and average. Don't expect a dramatic increase in production - however, it is not a reach to believe they can finish more towards the middle of the road.