Rhys Hoskins shook his head and smirked, seeming to be in disbelief that his difficult stretch was continuing.
Hoskins — along with everyone else inside Citizens Bank Park — thought for a moment that he tied Sunday’s game against the Padres with a home run to center field. Instead, he rounded first base and watched his sharply hit fly ball land in the outfielder’s glove against the wall in the eighth inning.
Hoskins’ funk — he has hit just four homers since the All-Star break — was not over yet. All he could do was shake his head.
“I feel like I’m one swing away,” Hoskins said.
If the Phillies reach the playoffs, it will be their lineup that hits them into October. They have watched Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto heat up as the final stretch of the season intensifies. The offense is talented enough to overcome the shortcomings on the mound, but the Phillies need all the components to click at the same time for six weeks.
Hoskins, after a strong first half, now seems to be a missing link. He went 0-for-4 Sunday and is batting .168 with a .651 OPS in his last 34 games. The Phillies entered Monday, an off day, tied for fourth place in the National League East and stood two games — alongside two other teams — behind the Cubs for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
If the Phillies are to emerge from the crowd, they will need all the offense they can get. And it’s hard to imagine them playing in October if Hoskins is still slumping.
“I feel great. Obviously it stinks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise I feel great,” Hoskins said. “I feel like for the most part I’m seeing pitches. I’m seeing the ball fine. Just, for whatever reason, things are a little off, and the last couple weeks when I do click something, it’s right at somebody That’s baseball. Unfortunately, I know that’s really cliche. I wish I had a different answer.”
Hoskins is still walking (he leads the NL with 92) and working deep counts (he leads baseball with 4.62 pitches per plate appearance), but that approach is no longer leading to damage.
He had a .530 slugging percentage at the All-Star break, but he has a .336 mark in 34 games since then. Hoskins has more walks (24) than hits (20) since the break. His expected batting average -- a Statcast metric that measures the likelihood that a batted ball will be a hit based on launch angle and exit velocity -- is the fourth-lowest in baseball (.192) since the break.
Hoskins is hitting too many fly balls and not generating enough strong contact, thus the low expected batting average and the decreased power numbers. His fly-ball rate (55 percent) and his average launch angle (24.9 percent) both lead the majors since the All-Star break and his average exit velocity is just 88.8 mph, which is the 120th best among major-league hitters.
Two seasons ago, Hoskins’ launch angle was just 18.4 degrees when he reached the majors. It has increased in both of the last two seasons as a new coaching staff instructed the hitters to keep the ball in the air.
Hoskins’ exit velocity has stayed relatively the same, but his expected batting average and expected slugging percentage dipped as his fly-ball rate spiked. Hoskins has the 12th-highest infield-fly-ball rate in the majors this season as his swing seems to often take the ball straight into the air.
“I’ve sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn,” Hoskins said. “Water will find its level.”
The Phillies ditched hitting coach John Mallee last week as his analytically driven approach and the team’s uppercut swings did not produce the offense they dreamed it would. The Phillies turned the keys over to Charlie Manuel, who brings a laid-back approach into the dugout.
For the final six weeks, it will be the hitters who determine if the Phillies will reach the playoffs. And the road to October will be a bit easier if Hoskins’ fly balls can travel just a few more feet.
“I’m feeling pretty protective of him right now because I know how hard he’s working and I know how much effort and time he’s putting in and the at-bat quality remains strong even though at the end the results aren’t there,” manager Gabe Kapler said.