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June 10, 2024

5 Phillies thoughts: Kyle Schwarber's unusual season, Trea Turner nearing return and more

Five thoughts on the MLB-best 45-20 Phillies as they travel back to the United States.

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Kyle Schwarber 6.9.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Schwarber has had an unusual -- yet productive -- 2024 season. But it is hard to wonder when a signature power surge is coming for the Phillies' veteran slugger.

After splitting their two-game series split against the New York Mets in London this weekend, the Phillies will have another day off as they travel back to the United States before beginning six-game road stretch against the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. Here are five thoughts on the current state of the Phillies:

Kyle Schwarber's atypical season

Schwarber's 2024 has been very dissimilar to the years he had in 2022 and 2023 for the Phillies — which is not necessarily an entirely bad thing. 

The most noteworthy change is in Schwarber's power. The veteran slugger hit 46 homers in 2022 and topped it with 47 in 2023. As things currently stand, he is on pace to finish 2024 with just 27 home runs. Schwarber, known for his dominance in the month of June, has not yet gone yard since the calendar turned its page: in fact, he only has three homers since the start of May.

Despite that power outage, Schwarber is finding ways to be more productive as a table-settle in the leadoff spot. His .357 on-base percentage so far in 2024 is easily the best it has been during any season in his Phillies tenure, as is his .235 batting average. 

For most of his career, Schwarber has struggled against left-handed pitchers relative to right-handed arms — as is the case for the vast majority of lefty sluggers. But, somehow, it has been the southpaws who Schwarber has excelled against in 2024: 

Schwarber vs. RHP in 2024Schwarber vs. LHP in 2024 
.170 AVG.320 AVG
.308 OBP.426 OBP
.326 SLG.476 SLG

One has to wonder if Schwarber is sacrificing power for improved on-base skills, and whether or not that is a viable trade-off for the Phillies moving forward.

Whit Merrifield shows signs of life across the pond

Merrifield, signed to a deal worth $8 million in 2024 to be a super utilityman of sorts, has struggled mightily since first donning a Phillies uniform. His playing time was rapidly declining, but the injuries to Brandon Marsh and Kody Clemens opened the door for him to see a bit more action. He was failing to take advantage of the opportunities until the team traveled to London.

In 33 games (27 starts) this season before the London series, Merrifield, 35, was slashing .171/.250/.267. He has drawn the ire of many Phillies fans who expected something resembling the type of performance that sent Merrifield to the All-Star Game last season. 

Phillies manager Rob Thomson said soon before the trip that in order to get right, the nine-year major-league veteran needed more plate appearances, which frustrated some. 

With left-handed starting pitchers on the mound for the Mets in both games, the right-handed-hitting Merrifield manned left field in each contest, and finally started to give Thomson a glimpse of the results the team had hoped for when they made him their most significant offensive addition of the offseason.

With two outs in the fourth inning on Saturday, Merrifield smoked a three-run home run into the Phillies' bullpen in left-field. 

Merrifield's biggest issue this season has been the lack of hard, impactful contact: his average exit velocity of 82.7 miles per hour is near the bottom of the pack in Major League Baseball. His three-run shot off Mets starting pitcher Sean Manaea came off the bat at 101.5 miles per hour — not exactly an elite figure, but a sign of improvement for Merrifield.

In the fourth inning on Sunday, Merrifield produced a run-scoring single with a pristine piece of hitting: he stayed focused on a tough breaking ball from Mets starting pitcher Jose Quintana down and away and poked it to the opposite field for a base knock. Just like that, he doubled his season-long RBI total — from four to eight — in just two swings.

Merrifield has a long way to go in order to prove he is deserving of the consistent playing time he hoped to earn in 2024 after not being guaranteed the everyday role he had sought after as a free agent. But these two games represented a step in the right direction.

Trea Turner nearing a return

According to Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki, Turner, the Phillies' star shortstop who has been sidelined for over a month due to a hamstring injury, could return "within the next week."

According to Zolecki, Turner and Thomson both indicated in London that Turner is not expected to go on a minor-league rehab assignment of any kind. Turner, 30, claims he is comfortable returning to big-league action without that buffer beforehand.

Turner will be firmly placed at shortstop and near the top of Thomson's lineup on an everyday basis whenever he returns. The question is, when he is activated off the 10-day Injured List, what does the future hold for Edmundo Sosa?

Sosa has starred as the team's shortstop in Turner's place, but with Bryce Harper, Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm and Turner all established in the infield, Sosa's path to more playing time could be in the outfield, where the Phillies have struggled all season from an offensive perspective. Sosa has very little experience in the outfield, but Thomson has indicated that a position change is something the team will consider for him once Turner is back at shortstop.

Phillies add 40-man roster depth

The Phillies lost one of their few non-active position players on their 40-man roster last week, when Double-A shortstop José Rodríguez was declared ineligible for one year for violating Major League Baseball's betting policy.

To add an infielder to their 40-man roster, the team made a trade with the Detroit Tigers to acquire Buddy Kennedy, a native of Millville, NJ who has spent parts of three seasons in the majors.

Kennedy, 25, will report to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Should the Phillies lose another infielder to injury at any point this season, he will likely be a strong candidate to be recalled to Philadelphia.

Kennedy has spent most of his time this season playing second base and third base, but has small doses of experience at shortstop, first base and left field throughout his professional career as well.

Spencer Turnbull's role moving forward

Turnbull, signed to a one-year deal this offseason to be a depth starter or long reliever for the Phillies, was forced into the fifth starter role to open the season when Taijuan Walker was not ready to open the season. Turnbull starred in his role, posting 1.67 ERA in six starts across 32.1 innings pitched.

It remains likely that Walker's place in the rotation is solidified barring a true, unmitigated disaster. And Walker showed some major progress with his outing against the Mets in London on Sunday. So, if Turnbull is not going to start, what exactly should his role be?

Turnbull's transition to the bullpen was a bit shaky at first — which is more than understandable given he had never made a major-league relief appearance prior to this season — but after Ranger Suárez was forced to exit a start after two innings last week due to injury, Turnbull ended up tossing three masterful innings of relief in which he struck out six, and the only batter to reach base against him did so on an error.

Thomson seems committed to keeping Turnbull stretched out in a multi-inning role — in part because it could make a potential transition back to the starting rotation easier should a member of the team's current starting rotation go down at any point. But given how dominant this rotation has become, the prototypical long reliever role is not one that is going to lead to many appearances for Turnbull. 

Some have suggested piggybacking Turnbull with Walker when it is Walker's turn to pitch, and while that could ease the burden on Walker, it would also lead to Thomson having one fewer available option out of the bullpen over the course of the majority of the team's games started by anybody else.

There is no easy answer to this problem — and ultimately, it is a good problem to have. It remains fascinating to see how Thomson will craft Turnbull's role moving forward.

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