One of the best turnarounds in recent baseball history is nearing completion. Four years removed from owning the worst record in baseball and after seven straight seasons of finishing .500 or lower, the Philadelphia Phillies have returned to a competitive level this season.
In 2011, the Phillies held the best record in the league, but were upset in the divisional round by the St. Louis Cardinals. The loss kicked off a drastic dropoff for one of baseball’s powerhouses. Veteran staples like Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley started to show their age and their production dropped drastically over the passing seasons.
The pitching core that had been dubbed “The Four Aces” — Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt — continued to perform at a high level, but some of the members left the squad or were not quite at the level they used to be. All four pitchers were considered some of the best in the world, while Halladay and Lee were both seen as Top 4 starters.
While the team did not lose any crucial pieces during the following offseason, the disappointment of the previous season weighed the team down and the 2012 season was not successful in the slightest, as the Phillies stumbled to an even 81–81 record. That was the beginning of a lengthy rebuild for a team that had made the World Series in 2008 and 2009.
Fast-forward to 2017. The Phillies called up highly-touted prospect Rhys Hoskins from the minors. Hoskins proceeded to set the record for most home runs by a player who made his debut after Aug. 1 with 18 on the season. Through just one full and two partial seasons, Hoskins has 62 home runs and 175 RBI’s. The rise of Hoskins ushered a new era of Philly baseball.
Young ace Aaron Nola made his debut for the organization in 2015, only one season after being drafted. He was the most exciting prospect for the Phillies in recent memory and continued to meet and exceed expectations through his four seasons in the majors. Most recently, he placed third in Cy Young voting last season behind New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom and Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
The 2018-2019 offseason was arguably the most exciting and eventful in Phillies’ history. Club owner John Middleton was quoted as saying the organization would be spending “stupid money” during free agency to get over the hump. Two of the best young players in the league — Bryce Harper and Manny Machado — headlined a lengthy list of free agents who were almost all mentioned in the same breath as the Phillies.
After a lot of back-and-forth and speculation about who the Phillies would actually be able to sign, Harper came to Philadelphia on a 10-year, $330 million contract. He joined former MVP Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto to bolster a newly-competitive squad.
With Nola and 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta anchoring the pitching rotation, the Phillies entered the season as one of the favorites to win the NL East and to possibly even compete for the conference pennant.
After just more than a month of play, the team owns a 19–14 record and sits first in the division. Hoskins leads the team with 10 home runs and 31 RBI’s, while Arrieta has been the most consistent pitcher with a 4–2 record and 3.40 ERA.
If Harper can resume the pace he showed to begin the season — four home runs and eight RBI’s with a .333 average through his first 10 games — the Phillies can improve as the season goes on thanks to the productivity of the other members of the squad.
Nola has struggled mightily early on this season, but one can assume that it is only a matter of time before the young ace picks up where he left off last season.
From kings, to bottom-feeders, and now back to competitors. Philadelphia fans had to deal with a period of mediocrity, but things are looking bright in Citizens Bank Park again and there is an electricity that has been absent since that 2011 season.