Ever since the 2015 trade of Cole Hamels belatedly kick-started a long-needed rebuild, the Philadelphia Phillies have been one of the worst teams in the majors.
In the past three seasons, the Phils have posted 99, 91, and 96 losses as they waited for a restocked farm system to cook. Pieces fell into place in dribbles. Centerfielder Odubel Herrera was acquired in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. Aaron Nola was drafted seventh overall in 2014 as a mostly finished product and made his debut a year later. Cesar Hernandez, signed before the long-delayed teardown, developed into one of the top on-base men in baseball.
But it was last season when things really lined up. Nola made a huge leap, putting together one of the best strings of starts in Phillies history and looking all the part of an ace-in-waiting. Outfielders Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams had strong seasons, the latter a surprise to everyone. Slugger Rhys Hoskins was called up in early August and rewrote the record books, reaching 18 home runs in 34 games, faster than anyone in history.
GM Matt Klentak took notice. Considering his core to be in place, he improved his team in all aspects during free agency, signing experienced hands like pitchers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter and first baseman Carlos Santana. There are still a lot of things that have to go right for the Phils, but they are certainly set for a big improvement in 2018 and could even be dark horse wild card contenders if everything breaks their way. More than anything, though, an improved season will set them up to be major players in next winter's massive free agent market, with an eye to becoming serious contenders in 2019.
Let's inspect the Phillies and what they will look like this season.