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Phillies Defense Already In Midseason Form

The Phillies fail to catch a fly ball.
Image: YES

The Phillies, who have been playoff also-rans for the last decade, made two big signings last week. The first, in which they signed slugging left fielder Kyle Schwarber, was physically the larger of the two. Then over the weekend they reached an agreement with Nick Castellanos, another slugger who plays the outfield. The Phillies are going to pay the luxury tax for the first time ever, which is nice even if the cigar heir that controls the team could’ve done it before. Whatever. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

The signings make clear that, if the Phillies can be said to have a master plan, it is that they are going to try to mash the ball in 2022. They added Schwarber (32 homers in 2021) and Castellanos (34 homers) to a lineup that already includes Bryce Harper (35 homers) and Rhys Hoskins (27 homers). But there is an issue, here: The Phillies were -54 in Defensive Runs Saved last season, which was last in the league. The players they added are not good defenders, and only one of them can play DH at once. So the Phillies are going to be bad defensively this year, and quite probably a lot worse than they were last year.

They’re going to be so bad defensively, in fact, that The Athletic’s Jayson Stark devoted a whole column to whether the Phillies can even make the postseason with such a bad defense. “COVID protocols dropped in Philly,” a scout joked to Stark. “They can’t catch anything.” Fortunately for Phillies fans, there is a bright side here, historically. The 2011 Phillies, the team that won a club-record 102 games, was also awful defensively. This Phillies lineup doesn’t have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt pitching for it, but also the team also doesn’t need to win 102 games to make the postseason. They just need to hit better than they pitch, on balance. Or maybe Phillies president Dave Dombrowski just looked at the 2011 team, saw that they also stunk defensively, and went from there.

(Another entertaining part of Stark’s article is this: The Phillies are so bad defensively that adding one or two good defenders wouldn’t even help that much. They’re bad everywhere in the field! So maybe they’re just punting defense entirely and going all in on offense. You know what they say: Offense wins championships.)

Anyway, it’s a bold gambit, and the games ahead will make clear whether it’s more foolish than it is brave. But today the Phillies played the Yankees in spring training and, boy, even the spring training lineup is getting right to work.

That’s Mickey Moniak, No. 1 overall pick in 2016, failing to catch the ball and crashing into Matt Vierling, who is expected to platoon in center field with Odubel Herrera. (The YES announcers say that Aaron Hicks couldn’t have placed it any better if he was throwing it—that would be the sport of “chuckball”—but I say he could. What if he just threw it over the outfield fence? Would that be harder than hitting it? Maybe not.)

These weren’t the only Phillies to get in on the action. Rhys Hoskins, come on down!

I like how Hoskins’ expression changes when the ball falls out of his glove. I suppose I’d better get used to it, because Phillies fans are in for 162 games of this—at least.