GROSS: Phillies hope their rebuild can follow similar path to Astros

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
  • After Tuesday's loss, the Phillies are on pace to lose 106 games this season.
  • Less than four years ago Houston was in a similar situation, but the Astros are now in first place.
  • The Phillies are hoping their rebuilding efforts will follow Houston's path.

This season has certainly not gone to plan for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, left, gets the force out at second on Philadelphia's Nick Williams, right, but was unable to turn the double play during the first inning Tuesday, July 25, 2017, in Philadelphia. The struggling Phillies are hoping to follow the Astros' example in rebuilding the franchise.

Most, if not all, expected the Phillies to take another slight step forward as the rebuild entered another year.

The 71 wins they had last year, besting 2015’s 63 wins, was supposed to inch up to the mid-70s. Some even were bullish enough on this team to suggest 80 wins was possible in 2017. Instead, this team has flirted with an on-pace number of losses ranging from 105 to 110 for much of the season. After Tuesday night’s loss to the Houston Astros it stood at 106.

That of course, has launched many Philadelphia fans into panic mode. By this point, it’s probably safe to say many have checked out. The Sixers’ Markelle Fultz was probably more interesting to area sports fans in the NBA Summer League than the Phillies were at any point this year after Opening Day. And Philadelphia is surely gearing up for Eagles training camp more than they are September call-ups.

But those who are at least sticking with the Phillies through Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline were able to look into the future’s crystal ball. Kind of. Possibly.

The Astros example: Less than four years ago, Sept. 29, 2013, to be exact, the Houston Astros closed the book on a 111-loss season. It was their third straight season with 106 losses or more, each worse than the previous year. It was the fifth straight year with a record under .500.

Despite a rising loss total, the Astros quickly pulled themselves from the rubble. The second season after losing 111 games they took their 2015 ALDS series with eventual World Series winner Kansas City to seven games. They missed the playoffs last year but as they put on display at Citizens Bank Park the past two days, they are the juggernauts of the American League. They own the AL’s best record with 67 wins and led all of baseball by averaging 6.0 runs per game heading into Tuesday’s 5-0 win over the Phillies.

“The thing about that team, they hit off the fastball,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said prior to Monday’s game. “They don’t miss mistakes.”

It is a roster that is almost completely flipped since that 2013 111-loss season. Of the 39 players to suit up for the Astros this season only four of them were on that 2013 squad – Jose Altuve, Marwin Gonzalez, Brad Peacock and Dallas Kuechel.

Learning about players: As Astros manager A. J. Hinch noted in comparing the two rebuilds, both franchises had to learn about players. In learning about players, it means many won’t make it. That’s what happened with the Astros. It could very well happen with the Phillies.

Think about it. If J. P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro are all a part of the future in Philadelphia, it would be a turnover of over half of the everyday position players from where the current roster stands. That’s not including any free agents the Philles sign, or All-Stars they could trade for.

“They’re very similar to how things were going for the Astros a couple of years ago in terms of the new players trying to establish themselves, trying to make a name for themselves,” Hinch said. “[They’re] teaching the game a lot at this level. Winning some games, losing some games. They’re going through a lot of the growing pains of a rebuild and that doesn’t mean that can’t beat any given team on any given night so you can’t take it for granted.”

Darkest before dawn: The lesson here for Phillies fans? In MLB rebuilds, sometimes it is darkest just before the light. The Chicago Cubs, the defending World Series champions, had a similarly quick ascent from basement to baseball greatness. Three seasons after a 101-loss season in 2012 they were swept in the NLCS. The very next season they won 103 games and were the last team standing.

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The Phillies do need prospects to become major league players. And they do need to add the right high-priced pieces. But with just Crawford, Hoskins, Kingery and Alfaro, they might not be too far away from completing the first task. Add in Aaron Altherr, who looks like he can be a piece for the future and they could be close rather quickly.

Mackanin acknowledged when a team like the Astros come into town, knowing how far they came in a short period of time, it gives you something to stop and think about. It’s an example of something that could be possible here, providing a sliver of hope in the midst of a season as bad as this one.

“Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes it doesn't,” Mackanin said. “We've got decisions to make but that's certainly the plan, to try to figure all that out. Make the right trades, make the right moves, sign the right people, trade the right people and get something back for it. And develop the people here.”