The Philadelphia Phillies' offense has been horrible this year, except for two young guns, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez.
With a 29–58 record, there's no doubt the Phillies are the worst team in baseball. The pitching has been ghastly, and the pop has been lacking in some bats. And with a fire sale likely looming in the distance, the team's roster could look very different this time next year. For a team that not too long ago was the toast of the National League, Philadelphia has now become the laughingstock. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the center of the team during its golden years, aren’t the same players any more. Utley and Howard are 36 and 35, respectively, and haven’t put up championship caliber numbers in years. The two former stars are currently struggling at the plate, and Utley—who is hitting .179/.257/.275—was even been benched recently.
Still, while it may seem so for Philadelphia fans, it’s not all doom and gloom. Young guns Maikel Franco, 22, and Cesar Hernandez, 25, have been bright spots on an otherwise disastrous roster. Franco hit .352 in June—and was named NL Rookie of the Month—after getting off to a slow start to the season. He's currently hitting .296/.350/.522, and is second on the team in home runs (10) and RBIs (34) as well as a team-best .296 batting average and a second-best .350 OBP. The player in front of Franco in OBP? Hernandez, the Phillies second baseman, whose .294 average is second on the team.
Together, Franco and Hernandez have helped create a more efficient offense on a team that, until June 20, was last in the majors in runs (211) and on-base percentage (.287). Since June 21, however, Philadelphia is second only to Detroit in efficiency and have managed to score 88 runs in their past 16 games, largely thanks to the play of Franco and Hernandez.
Next year’s team might look very, very different, but expect these two to be wearing the Phillies uniform for a long time.
Hitters of the Week
J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers: .483 BA (14-for-29), 5 HR, 9 R, 12 RBI, .516 OBP
The Tigers didn’t even need fireworks on the 4th of July, since Martinez provided his own. The Detroit outfielder is currently second in the AL in home runs with 24, behind only Albert Pujols; he's knocked four out of the park in the past five games and 14 in the past 20, meaning he’s on a ridiculous, unsustainable pace for 113 homers. His .573 slugging percentage is just barely behind teammate Miguel Cabrera (.578) and Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout (.575). And, with Cabrera being put on the DL for the first time in his career, the Tigers will rely even more heavily on Martinez to keep them in the mix in the competitive AL Central with the Royals and the Twins.
Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels: .550 BA (11-for-20), 1 HR, 7 R, 5 RBI, .545 OBP
On a team with fan-favorite names like Trout and Pujols, it would be easy for a player to get lost on the roster. Instead, Aybar has made sure fans all across the league know his name after his recent tear, including a game against the Rangers where Aybar went a perfect 5-for-5 with two runs. His .950 slugging percentage this week has helped his team make up some ground in the AL West against the Astros, still currently 3.5 games ahead. He’s helped jumpstart the L.A. offense, which, prior to the Texas road trip, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said had been stalling. He’s swinging at more pitches inside the zone and fewer outside it, a marked improvement on his past few seasons. While Aybar doesn’t have the power and pop or the sexy name like Trout or Pujols, the shortstop is seeing the ball well right now, especially against lefties.
Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates: .406 BA (13-for-32), 2 HR, 5 R, 9 RBI, .457 OBP
After a mediocre start to the season, Pittsburgh has quietly become one of the best teams in baseball this season thanks, in no small part, to Walker, Pittsburgh’s hometown hero. The second baseman’s nine-game hit streak ended Monday, during which he drove in his 32nd run of the season. That streak included a game where he went 4-for-6 with two home runs, three runs and three RBI to help power the Pirates over the Tigers. While Andrew McCutchen leads the team in every offensive statistical category except home runs, over this past week Walker has given the Pirates a depth that has made them look dangerous and has them No. 2 in SI’s weekly power rankings.
Hitters of the Weak
Lucas Duda, New York Mets: .120 BA (3-for-25), 0 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, .185 OBP
After a breakout season in 2014, Duda was expected to help carry the Mets this year, especially in the center of that lineup. Now, he’s struggling to even make contact with the ball, let alone hit it out of the park. His last home run came on June 18. Duda is chasing outside the strike zone and is searching for a home run rather than just making contact. Change-ups, in particular, seem to confuse him. Duda’s slump isn’t unique to the past week—since June 17, he’s hitting .136 (9-for-66) with 26 strikeouts. Still, Duda still has the faith of the coaching staff, who will continue to give him playing time, despite the fact that everything seems to be lacking.
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies: .120 BA (3-for-25), 1 HR, 3 R, 5 RBI, .207 OBP
Remember when Howard was an All-Star with six seasons with 30-plus home runs and helped lead his team to the playoffs in 2008, '09, '10 and '11? Well, this isn’t the same Ryan Howard, and these aren’t the same Philadelphia Phillies. While Howard has been mediocre over the past four seasons, his recent numbers are embarrassing. Beyond his batting average, Howard is striking out 5.5 times per walk, and his 90 wRC+ is the second-lowest among qualifying first basemen. He’s been hitting much better against righties than lefties, but that’s not saying much. Still, it’s not like Howard is the only Phillies player struggling, and the team doesn’t have many options.
Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians: .148 BA (4-for-27), 0 HR, 1 R, 4 RBI, .226 OBP
Brantley is an enigma. In 2014, Brantley posted career-highs with a .327 average, 20 home runs, 97 RBIs, 94 runs and 23 stolen bases. It was an MVP-caliber season from the shortstop, who rose to the top of the fantasy draft this season. But the excitement was premature. Brantley has been dealing with a nagging back injury, but that doesn’t completely explain the loss of power. He’s a contact hitter who sprays the ball all across the field and typically has a very low strikeout rate; even after he completely recovers from his back injury, his power likely won’t return. He has a habit of going through mini-slumps like the one he’s in now, but there never seems to be a timeline for when he might snap out of it.
Buy, sell, or hold
Buy: Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Lucroy has never been a power hitter, but that works for him. Since being activated off the DL at the start of June after suffering a broken toe from a foul tip, he’s hitting .284/.345/.381. He continues to struggle against lefties, but he’s historically been very good against southpaws, so he could be a threat in the lineup if he gets that under control. He’s never going to be the guy who launches 30 homers, but he’s a smart hitter with a career .340 OPS. Right now, he could be a steal.
Sell: DJ LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies
Despite being named to the All-Star team, LeMahieu continues to be a risk. His .298 for the season is still pretty good, but he’s hitting just .211 in his last 19 at-bats with just three runs and one RBI. And his batting average is much lower than the .417 it was at the beginning of May or the .335 it was at the beginning of June. He’s doesn’t hit for power—his career high home runs is five in 2014—even though he plays at Coors Field, and if he stops finding the holes in the outfield he was able to find earlier, he doesn’t bring much, if anything, to the table.
Hold: Nori Aoki, San Francisco Giants
The Giants’ outfielder has been out since late June, when he was put on the 15-day DL for a fractured fibula. The All-Star break will give him a couple more days to recover, and, with other injuries to outfielders, Aoki will be a crucial component in the Giants’ title defense. He has thrived batting lead-off for San Francisco, hitting .317 this season, but it's unclear whether Aoki can keep up his pace, or if he’ll drop down closer to his career .291 average. It’s also possible that he’ll return to a batting average above .300, around where he fluctuated before being injured. Things will be clearer after the All-Star break when he returns to the lineup, but he still has the potential to be a very valuable asset.
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Scouts say that this prospect is more talented than his brother, who was just named to the All-Star team, so there's a good chance that he makes an appearance in the big leagues soon, especially as L.A. readies for a big playoff push later in the season. The 18th overall pick in 2012 struggled in the minors in '13, but lead the minors in hitting and doubles in '14. He has a smooth swing and can hit for both average and power and is considered to be a mature player although he can sometimes be too aggressive. While he’s listed as a shortstop, Seager might have a more successful career at third base due to his size and lack of natural speed most shortstops possess. The Dodgers’ current third baseman, Alberto Callaspo has been solid for the team, but Seager presents an intriguing and exciting possibility for the Dodgers to add more depth to an already talented roster.
GIF of the Week
Poor, poor Chris Davis. In a potential game-tying situation in the 9th inning against the White Sox, Davis absolutely launched a ball. Everyone in the stadium watched as it went back and back and back until this happened: