Last year, a search for Phillies representation at the All-Star Game led to the back right corner of the National League clubhouse. There, wedged among five Milwaukee Brewers and three Chicago Cubs and four Atlanta Braves, sat Aaron Nola, a soloist in red pinstripes.
No way that would happen again this season, right? The reconvening of baseball’s best players in Cleveland in July for the 90th All-Star Game was supposed to be a veritable Phillies convention. Bryce Harper. Rhys Hoskins. J.T. Realmuto. Nola. Andrew McCutchen. Jean Segura. Maybe even the Phanatic would tag along.
Uh, not quite.
The Phillies’ best players haven’t been their best players, which is why they entered this weekend’s series against the Miami Marlins having lost 13 of 19 games -- and eight games in the standings since May 29. And as the first round of fan balloting -- “The Primary,” as it was dubbed by Major League Baseball’s marketing whizzes -- ended Friday evening, the Phillies were shut out from having any players advance to a 28-hour runoff to elect All-Star starters.
So, it will be up to the player voting and pitching selections made by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to determine the Phillies’ All-Star contingent. But which players even deserve to be chosen? How large should the group be?
Let's examine the Phillies' candidates and handicap their chances, beginning with their superstar right fielder.
Three months into his Phillies career, this much is apparent: Harper isn't baseball’s best player, but he's probably its biggest star.
What, then, would an All-Star Game be without the Phillies’ $330 million man?
Well, Harper wasn’t picked for last year’s game. It only felt as if he was because he won the Home Run Derby in his then-home park, in Washington, on the eve of the game. He said last weekend, though, that it’s doubtful he will defend his derby title.
Harper’s production, particularly his power, is down from his usual levels. Through Thursday, he was tied for 11th in wins above replacement among NL outfielders, according to Fangraphs.
“I can do better,” Harper said the other day. “Power numbers aren’t where I want them to be. I can’t miss pitches in the zone that I should’ve hammered. I’ve got to figure it out and get it going and not miss those pitches.”
But whom would most of the country rather see in an All-Star Game: Harper or Jeff McNeil and Ketel Marte?
Despite a June slump, Hoskins entered the weekend as the Phillies’ leader in home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging. He has been their most consistent hitter.
But first base is the league’s most loaded position, even with Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt having down years. Freddie Freeman (Braves) and Josh Bell (Pirates) are locks. Mets rookie Peter Alonso should be, too. Anthony Rizzo (Cubs) has better across-the-board numbers than Hoskins, and even he might get snubbed.
Just about every Phillies pitcher will say that Realmuto is the team’s most valuable player. He’s an iron man, too, having started behind the plate in 61 of the first 74 games.
Realmuto didn’t squeak into the top three catchers eligible for the election of starters after running behind the Cubs’ Willson Contreras, the Braves’ Brian McCann, and the Brewers’ Yasmani Grandal.
Regardless, Contreras, Grandal, and Realmuto are all having All-Star seasons. There should be a place for each of them on the roster.
Injuries to the Rockies’ Trevor Story and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager could open the door for Segura to join likely All-Star shortstops Paul DeJong (Cardinals) and Javier Baez (Cubs). But the same could be said for the Braves’ Dansby Swanson and even the Reds’ Jose Iglesias, both of whom have numbers similar to those of Segura, who was sixth among NL shortstops in WAR.
Second base is a particularly weak position. The Braves’ Ozzie Albies is most deserving of the starting nod. But with nobody else making a compelling case, Mike Moustakas (Brewers), Marte (Diamondbacks), and McNeil (Mets) could be reserve options even though they have also played other positions.
Kingery would have the best case of any Phillies position player if not for missing a month with a hamstring injury. Entering the weekend, though, he was nearly 100 at-bats short of qualifying for the batting title, making it difficult to justify an All-Star selection.
Other than perhaps McCutchen’s going down for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the Phillies haven’t had a bigger disappointment than Nola.
A Cy Young Award finalist last year, Nola entered his start Friday night ranked 41st among 42 qualifying NL pitchers in both ERA (4.89) and walks/hits per inning pitched (1.506). He allowed five or more runs in five of 15 starts and completed the seventh inning only once.
Nola’s reputation as an ace isn’t strong enough yet to get him on the All-Star team in spite of those numbers.
Surprise, surprise. Not only has Eflin been the Phillies’ most consistent starter, but he entered the weekend with a better ERA (2.83) than Cole Hamels (2.85), Clayton Kershaw (2.85), Zack Greinke (2.91), Walker Buehler (3.06), and Jacob deGrom (3.26).
That's bound to get Roberts' attention.
If Eflin pitches well in his next start, this coming week against the Mets, it might just win him a spot on the NL’s pitching staff.
For a team that claims not to have a closer, Neris looks a lot as if he’s playing the part. His last 14 appearances entering the weekend came in the ninth inning, and he was among eight relievers in the NL with at least 15 saves. He had blown one save and was leading the team with 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Last year, Roberts chose six relievers plus Dodgers swingman Ross Stripling. That would seemingly put Neris in the mix with Kirby Yates (Padres), Josh Hader (Brewers), Felipe Vazquez (Pirates), Will Smith (Giants), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers), and either Raisel Iglesias or Amir Garrett (Reds).