Rhys Hoskins lifted the Phillies to a huge series win on Sunday. But is his return enough to get the quickly fading Phillies back on track in time? (Gregory Bull/Staff – AP)

Hoskins Helps Fading Phillies Find Footing, But Is It Too Late? 7th-Day Stretch

It’s remarkable how fast a baseball season can change. At the end of July, the Phillies were bumbling around like they’d been for most of the season, losing bad games to bad teams in bad ways. In the race to win the NL East, they were too busy hopping around trying to get gum off of their shoes instead of focusing on pulling ahead of their equally pathetic competition.

Then, something incredible happened. For the first time in eleven years, the team rattled off eight consecutive victories. They concluded the run by sweeping the Mets, overthrowing them atop the division’s throne, and pulling two games ahead of their still-stumbling competition. People began to feel things they hadn’t felt in a decade; feelings people young enough, like myself, could not remember that they had ever felt them before until inklings of them consumed our bodies whole with glee throughout the first week of August.

What has happened since has also been incredible, but for completely different reasons. In the blink of an eye, the Phillies reverted back to late July form. For the third straight month, they have faded in remarkably quick fashion after jumping out to a strong start.

The Phillies have always been a team built to outhit their flaws, which are basically everything else. Ok, maybe not starting pitching, but other than that (and hitting – sometimes), there isn’t a lot this team does well. Since the streak ended, in fact, even including that series against the Mets, the Phillies have simply not hit. They scored more than four runs in a game just once from August 5-21. They lost 3-2 and 4-2 to a Diamondbacks team that is 9-64 when scoring fewer than five runs. Arizona had not one consecutively when doing so all season before the Phillies came to town. Two of the runs they scored in two games against the league’s second-worst pitching staff came on wild pitches. Over the final two games of the series, the Phillies were nearly outhit by Arizona’s starting pitchers. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Two weekends ago, All-Stars Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos combined for one hit when the Reds came to town. Yet the Phillies still lost two of three to what remained of still surging Cincinnati. The Phillies, despite an eight-game winning streak, are one game farther from first place than they were at the start of August. Once again, they have taken the most convoluted path possible to arrive at a stunning level of mediocrity. And then they wasted a near perfect effort by Aaron Nola on Saturday, needing two hit-by-pitches with the bases loaded in the 8th to score and stranding their ghost runner in the top of the tenth. “Not good enough” is a massive understatement.

Then Sunday threw a wrench in the narrative and four balls in the seats at PETCO Park. The Phillies activated Rhys Hoskins from the injured list, his first action since his game-winning, two-run double in the 9th inning on August 5th. Throughout their skid, the Phillies have looked at Hoskins’ potential return as one (the only?) reason for optimism. Rarely can one hitter, especially not a truly elite (but still very good) one like Hoskins, change an entire lineup’s fortunes. Then Hoskins hit two home runs on Sunday, helping the Phillies reach the five-run threshold once again. In a season that has lost its way so many times, Hoskins helped the Phillies find something they desperately needed.

Hoskins came at the staggering cost of demoting reigning NL ROY runner-up Alec Bohm to AAA. Bohm has been hitting better after a terrible start to the year, but his defense is so much of a liability that he’s been replaced by Ronald Torreyes at third and demoted over the more versatile Luke Williams, who started both games this weekend. But the Phillies are willing to pay the luxury tax whatever else it takes right now. And the price was certainly worth it on Sunday. The Phillies scored seven runs for the first time in sixteen days. It was an exciting flashback to the distant past of two weeks ago.

But what has happened in between has produced a dire situation. The Braves are close to running away with what was once baseball’s tightest division. The wild card, an afterthought at the start of the month, might be the easiest ticket to the postseason. But a franchise known for shooting itself in the foot is in critical condition for the rest of 2021. Hoskins’ return looms large. Zach Eflin pitched 2.1 shutout innings in a rehab start on Saturday for AA Reading. He could be back this week. So could Freddy Galvis, who began a rehab assignment at AAA Lehigh Valley on Thursday. Sam Coonrod is eligible to be activated off the 60-Day IL on Tuesday, one week after starting a rehab assignment of his own.

As someone who collected baseball cards as a kid, this feels so wrong. Another brilliant* decision by Major League Baseball, I suppose (*actual brilliance not included).

All those reinforcements are intriguing and also not all that surprising. After all, the Phillies are never short on hope. But it’s the hope that’s killed them three years running. After a brief run suggesting otherwise, the Phillies have returned to that familiar fading feeling. It will take a lot more than one player’s return and a few home runs to erase the doubts and the deficit separating them from a Postseason spot. But every miracle run starts somewhere, and make no mistake, if the Phillies have a happy ending in 2021, that’s exactly what it will take. Overcoming the gap in the standings and their exploits over the last decade requires nothing less, and thankfully, nothing more.

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