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Series Preview: The Phillies are all over the place

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And, did the Giants luck out by not landing Bryce Harper? Did Bryce Harper miss out by not choosing the Giants?

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The movie SLIDING DOORS is about two separate stories based on a “What if?” question: what if Gwyneth Paltrow’s character — whose name I have forgotten — misses her subway train and what if she makes the train? Paltrow’s decision to do a British accent really took me out of the movie, so I didn’t finish it, but the offseason pursuit of Bryce Harper really was a SLIDING DOORS situation.

What happens if he goes with the Phillies? What if he chose the Giants instead?

Harper hasn’t demolished the NL East nor have the Phillies, but if you ported over his exact line to the current Giants roster — .254/.368/.472 (.840 OPS) — he would be their best hitter to this point in the season.

But would they have added Alex Dickerson? Does Mike Yastrzemski get his shot? After all, Harper’s presence would’ve probably meant they don’t churn through the likes of Connor Joe and Michael Reed. Maybe Austin Slater gets called up earlier to fill in some gaps and without the benefit of more time to refine his new swing, he doesn’t make such a smash.

Of course, if the Giants start 22-34 with Bryce Harper, the same volume of changes get made, but Harper’s so good that it would be easy to imagine some sort of weird 25-31 mark — not great, not the absolute worst, but sort of in neutral. Harper was always going to be a balm or salve to get the organization through a transition year or two, and if he were on this current Giants team, we would probably be pleased to have him even if the team around him wasn’t very good.

This is the “made the train version of the story”, though. In the movie, when she misses the train, she goes back home to discover her long-time boyfriend has been cheating on her. It upends her life. The Giants were forced to take a hard look at what they had and make some big changes.

Harper to the Phillies is the “what if he made the train?” version of events. In this one, he, like Paltrow’s character (I’m guessing because, again, I didn’t finish the movie), finds true love after a series of awkward events.

Awkward is where the Phillies find themselves right now. They’re 55-50, third place in the NL East and just a game out of the Wild Card. Like most of the NL teams still in the Wild Card chase, they have a negative run differential (-22) on account of having the worst pitching staff in the National League (3.7 fWAR). Don’t worry — the Giants are right behind them, albeit with a 5.7 fWAR.

Obviously, the strength of the Giants’ pitching comes from the bullpen. In the Phillies’ case, their bullpen has been even worse (-0.2 fWAR) than the rotation (3.9 fWAR), which compelled them to trade for the MetsJason Vargas yesterday. Vargas has basically been a league average pitcher — this represents a tremendous upgrade to their rotation.

They’ve had sort of the reverse of what the Giants have had over the past two months. They were 33-24 through June (the Giants were 22-34). Since then, they’ve gone 22-26 (Giants: 32-18) , which includes a seven-game losing streak all to division opponents. They’ve more or less righted the ship of late, however, going 16-12 since June 24th, but they’ve just been inconsistent, playing up to some teams, down to others, and even with the rest.

Bryce Harper chose the team that was closer to completing their rebuild, but make no mistake: the Phillies are still rebuilding. Their lineup is a considerable force — we would’ve seen Andrew McCutchen for the first time since the Giants traded him were it not for a season-ending knee injury — but it has generally underperformed this year (Cesar Hernandez, Jean Segura, Maikel Franco, and J.T. Realmuto are all having worse seasons than last year and their worst in years, if ever), which has really not helped their lack of pitching.

Aaron Nola has been the ace they’d hoped for, but Jake Arrieta’s age has caught up with him and Vince Velasquez hasn’t been able to master his command, while Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin have been wildly inconsistent.

Harper didn’t make the wrong choice. It wound up working out for all parties involved, but the Giants need these three games just as much as the Phillies do, and where there’s probably no hard feelings regardless of outcome, there’s at least a decent chance the Giants could make Bryce Harper feel a twinge of regret.

Or not. He looks pretty happy right where he is.

Hitter to watch

Rhys Hoskins was forced to play the outfield last year while the Phillies tried to incorporate Carlos Santana into the lineup. He wound up being the worst defensive outfielder in baseball. Since moving him back to first base, he’s been a much better overall player and since July 1st, he’s hitting .257/.415/.514 (.928 OPS). That’s on a .314 BAbip, so we’re not talking fluke territory here. He’s also posting an 18:20 walks to strikeouts ratio, which — hey, that’s annoying. He’s going to work the count.

Oh, and then there’s Bryce Harper. Probably watch him, too.

Pitcher to watch

Remarkably, the Phillies don’t appear to have acquired Jason Vargas for the express purpose of facing the Giants this week, but maybe that could change.

In the meantime, they have a Will Smith / Tony Watson of their own in left-handed reliever Adam Morgan. He’s allowed just three hits in 8.2 innings in July, and while he is much more of the traditional lefty neutralizer (.432 OPS against), he’s tough against righties, too (.613 OPS). He’s also allowed all of two home runs this season.

He’ll be a potent threat late in the game against Alex Dickerson, Brandon Belt, and Mike Yastrzemski... the three best left-handed batters in the Giants’ lineup?


There will be trades. Drew Pomeranz will face Bryce Harper for a key out and not Will Smith or Tony Watson.