Ah, the anguished voices, crying out in dismay over the Phillies' late-summer swoon. They claim that not only was the season lost but that also it was wasted because we learned next to nothing.
That's neither fair, nor smart, nor true.
After Tuesday's loss in Denver, the Phillies stood at 78-79 with five games to play: in Colorado on Wednesday and Thursday, then home against the Braves this weekend. No matter what happens in those five games, they will have at least 12 more wins than they had in 2017. That's an increase of 18 percent, and that's their most wins in the past six seasons. That might be of little solace in this moment. Indeed, it is deflating to go 10-25 down the stretch, 4-13 in the last 17, and 0-6 since Thursday, but a 12-win increase marks clear progress.
Not only are the Phillies inarguably better today than they were a year ago, but they also figured a few things out. Many of the answers might be disappointing, but they're answers.
The club has an ace. It has defensive promise — if properly aligned. It has a stud bat for the middle of the lineup — if he ever gets to bat there. We solved other mysteries, too.
Does the kid general manager know what he's doing? Will the dingbat all-star mature? Will the bizarre manager get the most out of a flawed roster, or will he make the club a joke?
We knew none of these things for certain in March. We're pretty sure about most of them now — though you're probably going to hate No. 3.
1. Aaron Nola's an ace. He started 32 games and won half of them. A solid Cy Young candidate all season, Nola ranks second in the National League in ERA, third in fewest walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), fourth in strikeouts, and first among pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He went 8-4 in starts after Phillies losses, and the team was 11-6 in those starts. Perhaps the most important number: He's only 25.
2. The Phillies will build their roster around Rhys Hoskins. Through his first 198 major-league games, he hit .259 with 51 home runs and 142 RBIs and walked 121 times. This, generally unsupported — mainly unsupported — by Odubel Herrera. The Phillies apparently have finally given up on making Hoskins a left fielder, which they forced him to play when he was called up last season and, predictably, where he was awful. Playing full time at first base, where he always should have been, should help him sustain productivity next season.
3. Gabe Kapler is the right man for the job. He is outlandish, and unconventional, and generally inconsiderate of feelings and traditions, but he made a .500 team out of a bunch of kids and $50 million worth of underachieving veterans, Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana. Kapler's everyday lineup featured four players — FOUR — who not only had never played a full major-league season but who also averaged fewer than 170 at-bats for their careers. He said and did some crazy stuff — Arrieta's not a horse, and relievers need time to warm up — but Kapler was manager of the year a month ago. More on him at a later date.
4. General manager Matt Klentak, 38, might not be the right man for the job. In his third season, he signed Arrieta and Santana, which turned out badly. At 32, Arrieta had a third straight season of decline, and he's still owed $45 million over the next two seasons. Santana, 32, also declined for the third season in a row. The Phillies owe him more than $40 million over the next two years. Klentak also kept Scott Kingery in the majors after just 286 plate appearances in triple A. Klentak then asked Kingery, a fine second baseman, to play shortstop, the most demanding position in baseball, as a rookie. He also hung an unjustifiable, unconscionable, $24 million contract around Kingery's neck.
5. Nola's young stablemates — Vince Velasquez, 26; Nick Pivetta, 25; and Zach Eflin, 24 — are incredibly promising. Velasquez still would look better at the back of the bullpen than in the middle of the rotation.
6. Jorge Alfaro is a lousy catcher, and indifferent. So make him an outfielder, not Hoskins. He can run, and he can throw. He's got more natural power than anyone else in the franchise. He'll hit 30 homers by accident. He can replace Herrera.
7. Trade Herrera. It might wake him up, because he's not going to wake up in Philadelphia.
8. J.P. Crawford is a magician at shortstop. Leave him there. Don't care what he hits.
9. Kingery's on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .612 is third worst among players with 475 plate appearances. But for Chris Davis of the Orioles, Kingery would have had the worst season of any player in baseball. And it's probably not his fault. Give Kingery a full season at second base and let him become Dustin Pedroia.