Phillies optimistic after solid second half

Phillies optimistic after solid second half

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies' bright future didn't look so bright at the All-Star break.

They had the worst record in baseball, and were on pace to lose 108 games. Nothing seemed to be going right. But their outlook improved, as the Phillies played better in the second half.

Enough of their young players and prospects showed promise that it's not crazy to think that, with a good offseason, the Phillies could legitimately be a .500 or better team next season.

Phils eye vets to bolster rotation, 'pen, bench

Here is a look at the five biggest storylines from the field from 2017:

1. Hello, Rhys

Rhys Hoskins is the biggest reason for any newfound optimism about the Phillies. He put up monster numbers -- hitting home runs in bunches while showing impressive discipline at the plate, enough to convince everybody he is not just a hot hitter having a few good weeks. He looks like the real deal.

Must C: Hoskins extends HR mark

The only question about Hoskins entering next season is where he should hit in the lineup, third or fourth?

2. Nola returns to form

Where would the Phillies' rotation be without Aaron Nola?

He went 12-11 with a 3.54 ERA, which was one of the best marks in the National League. He also struck out 184 batters in 168 innings, averaging 9.86 strikeouts per nine innings. It is the third-best mark in Phillies history. Only Curt Schilling fared better when he averaged 11.29 strikeouts in 1997 and 10.05 strikeouts in 1998.

Nola's strong outing

Nola took a step forward because his velocity improved, his curveball remained one of the game's best and he learned to throw a changeup. Oh, and he throws those pitches for strikes. The rotation needs a lot of work outside of Nola, but at least the Phils can pencil him in for a job.

3. The infield logjam

Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis both enjoyed the best seasons of their careers, but two of the organization's top prospects are coming for their jobs. J.P. Crawford looked capable in his September audition, while Scott Kingery had an incredible season at Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. They could be playing shortstop and second base next year.

Crawford's first MLB triple

Maikel Franco had a very disappointing season, so nobody knows how he fits into the club's plans for the future. But the Phillies had enough good things happen in the infield that they should be in a better place in 2018.

4. Best outfield since 2010

The Phillies had one of the worst outfields in baseball in 2016, but they enjoyed a huge turnaround this season. Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams played well enough that Philadelphia's outfield had its most productive season (based on OPS) since '10, when the club had Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez.

Altherr's game-tying homer

Expect Altherr, Herrera and Williams to be in the outfield on Opening Day 2018.

5. The veteran fade

The Phillies began the season with Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit in an effort to stabilize the roster. Only Neshek really excelled. Buchholz got hurt immediately, while Saunders was released in June. Kendrick, Hellickson, Benoit and Neshek were traded before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Phillies received a few prospects and some valuable international signing bonus pool money in return. The team started to play better once these veterans were removed from the roster.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.