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September 14, 2017

In second half, Phillies have provided fans with reason to believe in rebuild

At the conclusion of Wednesday night’s game at Citizens Bank Park, the following was still an unavoidable fact: the Philadelphia Phillies owned the worst record in baseball.

They were also 32 games behind the Washington Nationals, who figure to be a pretty stacked team in 2018, too. The Phillies were 24 games out with 10 teams to jump over for the National League’s second wild card.

But this isn’t about 2017 anymore, nor has it ever really been about 2017.

For the last two months, there have been signs of hope that a Phillies team that competes on a nightly basis isn’t that far away.

On Wednesday, Pete Mackanin could close his eyes for a second, opened them up and glance at the scoreboard and remembered the team he watched from the same dugout eight years earlier, during his first year as a bench coach in Philadelphia.

“That game reminded me of when I was here in 2009, '10, '11 – good pitching, good hitting, power, good defense,” the Phillies manager said. “Very reminiscent of when I first arrived. Good to see.”

And probably the best part of it all, from the view of the manager, the folks in the front office and owner’s boxes, or from the 16,745 people that came through the Citizens Bank Park turnstiles, was that Wednesday’s 8-1 victory over the Marlins was a byproduct of the talent accrued during the team’s rebuild.

Aaron Nola threw seven scintillating innings, holding the powerful Marlins lineup to one run while striking out a career high 11 batters. Odubel Herrera had two hits, scored two runs, and drove in two runs from the leadoff spot, half of that damage coming on a titanic 424-foot home run that landed in the second deck of the right field seats.

Aaron Altherr hit an RBI double, Nick Williams had two hits and an RBI, J.P. Crawford collected his third double in his last two games, and even defensive wiz Freddy Galvis had three hits.

Other than a hiccup early last season and the uncertainty of his health entering last offseason after missing the final two months of 2016, Nola has been a consistent cog and arguably the one guy you could have pointed at in July as a no-doubt-about-it piece for the next contending Phillies team. The 24-year-old former first-round pick has a 3.60 ERA this season, including a 3.22 ERA in his last 19 starts.

But since the All-Star break, the lineup has produced something encouraging almost every night and looks almost unrecognizable from the offense Mackanin had to watch for the seasons’ first three months.

To wit: the Phillies slashed .242/.303/.394 in 87 games before the break. They averaged 3.8 runs per game. Only the San Diego Padres had scored fewer runs. They had 257 extra-base hits in 2,959 at-bats.

In the second half, only the Rockies, Cardinals and Cubs have scored more runs than the Phillies among NL teams. The Phils are slashing .267/.332/.439 in 58 games since the break, averaging 4.83 runs per game with 199 extra-base hits in 2,030 at-bats. Only the Rockies and Diamondbacks have more extra-base hits among NL teams.

The result? The Phillies are 27-31 since the break after going 29-58 in the season’s first half.

That’s a marked improvement, especially when you consider the non-Aaron Nola portion of the rotation has a 5.92 ERA in the second half.

The front office can work on putting more competent pitching around Nola this winter. But, at least in a two-month stretch, it sure looks like they finally have a working core for a young, productive offense to support a staff that’s often been begging for runs in the last 3 … or 6 to 7 years.

“It’s pretty cool,” Nola said of watching the likes of Rhys Hoskins, Williams, and the re-energized Herrera change the complexion of the lineup in the last two months. “We’re definitely scoring a lot more runs in the second half than in the first half. And even when we’re not scoring, we’re getting a lot of hits. And when you’re hitting the runs are going to come, like tonight when the offense was really good.”

Wait, did we really forget about Rhys "The Alien" Hoskins earlier?

Yes, Rhys Hoskins homered. Again. And he was the fastest in major league history to reach the current career home runs on his stat sheet (17, the same as his uniform number). Again.

The guy who is looking more and more like the pillar for the middle of the Phillies lineup for the next decade pretty much had a perfect night at the plate, hitting sacrifice fly in the first inning, working a walk in the third, drilling a two-run home run in the fifth, and keeping a one-out rally in the sixth going with a single.

Hoskins has five home runs in his last five games. He has nine home runs and 21 RBI in his last 12 games at Citizens Bank Park.

“I was real happy to see Hoskins come out of his two or three at-bat slump of not hitting a home run,” Mackanin said jokingly.

He’s obviously run out of superlatives for his history-making slugger, who is slashing .340/.458/.858 over his last 30 games.

For a frame of reference, entering Wednesday Mike Trout was slashing .262/.449/.515 over his last 30 games, Giancarlo Stanton was slashing .292/.400/.708 in his last 30 games, and Aaron Judge slashed .357/.486/.759 over his best 30-game stretch this season (from May 28-June 28).

“This is baseball, it’s not going to last forever,” Hoskins said. “I’ve just been lucky enough that I’m able to kind of ride this natural wave. … I’m just going to try to keep riding it as much as I can.”

The wave will end, eventually, but the way the Phillies new bats have played in the last two months, there’s reason to believe there will be more coming in the next few years as the team looks to turn the corner from pretender to contender.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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