WASHINGTON -- The Phillies reached the final week of the 2019 season with enough issues to keep Rhys Hoskins’ prolonged struggle at the plate out of the top five. When you have a line that starts with the future status of the manager, it usually means a lot of other things also went wrong over the course of 162 games and that is going to be the undeniable truth for the underachieving 2019 Phillies when they reach the finish line Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.
Hoskins’ offensive production was so good for so long that it would be crazy to list first base as a position of need when the 2020 roster construction begins for the Phillies in the coming months. At the very least, however, Hoskins has become a player of concern, a fact that was illuminated again Monday night during the Phillies’ 7-2 loss to the Washington Nationals that left them on the brink of elimination from the National League wild-card race.
Hoskins went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, leaving him hitless in his last 21 at-bats and lowering his season average to .230 with seven games remaining. Hoskins came to the plate with men on base in his first three at-bats Monday at Nationals Park, and twice with runners in scoring position, but failed to come through with a hit.
“I know Rhys is struggling right now,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think he wants to perform for his teammates. It has very little to do with him and more to do with how he feels about supporting the club. I know he’s frustrated. It’s been difficult for him.”
That’s probably true, but hardly a solution for what ails the first baseman.
Hoskins grounded out to shortstop on a 2-2 fastball that was out of the strike zone to end the first inning, struck out on three pitches in the fourth inning and struck out on a slider in the dirt with runners at second and third with nobody out in the sixth inning. His one good swing of the night came in the eighth when he lined out to right field.
It was another night in which he mostly looked lost and there have been far too many of those in the second half of this season. In fact, it’s difficult to believe he is the same guy who burst onto the big-league scene a little more than two years ago.
“I think when Rhys is relaxed and confident at the plate, he’s on top of his game,” Kapler said. “That’s what separates it for him. When he’s feeling confident and calm and relaxed, he’s as good as anybody in baseball. We’ve seen it in stretches ... but there’s no doubt he’s going through a tough time.”
From his arrival in the big leagues on Aug. 10, 2017, through the Phillies’ final game of the first half this season, Hoskins did not just accumulate good offensive numbers, he had superstar offensive numbers. His 72 home runs from the point of his big-league debut through the Phillies’ first-half-ending win over the New York Mets this season were tied with Christian Yelich for fifth in all of baseball.
Run down the list of all the vital offensive statistics and Hoskins was among the elites through his first 292 career games. His 203 RBIs and 192 walks ranked fourth, his .526 slugging percentage was tied for 15th, his .902 OPS was 13th, his .375 on-base percentage was tied for 16th and his 65 doubles ranked 25th.
You could argue those numbers were skewed a bit by the phenomenal start to Hoskins’ career when he slugged 18 homers in his first 34 games, but even if you erase those totals, Hoskins was still in the conversation among the best power hitters in the game when we reached the All-Star break this season.
His 20 homers at the break were a healthy number and tied with some of the game’s elite, including Washington’s Anthony Rendon, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and San Diego’s Manny Machado. His 59 RBIs were 20th in baseball, his .401 on-base percentage was eighth, thanks in large part to his 68 walks, the most in the National League. His .931 OPS ranked 14th.
Sure the Phillies had plenty to worry about when they lost 21 of 35 games before the break. When that pitiful streak was over they had gone from first place and 3 ½ games ahead of Atlanta to second place and 6 ½ games behind the Braves. Now, of course, they are in fourth place in the NL East behind the Nationals and New York Mets and they appear destined to finish there.
One thing the Phillies did not have to worry about, however, was Hoskins because he was doing what he had always done since his 2016 breakout season at double-A Reading -- drawing walks, hitting homers and driving in runs.
For some reason, that has not been the case for quite some time now and the story of the team’s failure to reach the postseason for an eighth straight year must include a chapter on Hoskins’ second-half slump.
Since the All-Star break, the Phillies first baseman has batted .185 (43-for-233) with just nine home runs and 24 RBIs. A total of 86 players have hit more home runs than Hoskins since the break and 120 players have more RBIs during that span.
Kapler said Hoskins will continue to play because he gives the Phillies their best chance to win.
“As long as he’s healthy and strong, he’ll be in the lineup for us,” Kapler said. “I believe he’s our best option always. I believe he’s among our best weapons every single day.”
Maybe, but not lately and not for a while now, which is why he now has a spot on their list of concerns for next season.