Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies Pete Mackanin has set the bar higher for the rebuilding ball club in 2017.
After seeing an increase from 63 wins in 2015 to 71 wins in 2016, Mackanin says he is having his players aim for 81 wins in 2017.
“I don’t want to set the goal too high because I want to be fair to everybody,” Mackanin told the Associated Press last month. “I feel like if we can play .500 and bring it in to the first part of August where the guys start jelling and believing in themselves and getting those competitive juices flowing, I think we can be in the hunt if we get to that point.”
The Phillies are looking to get themselves back to a .500 record for the first time since 2012 when they went 81-81.
Seeking to build off a successful 2016 season will be second baseman Caesar Hernandez and shortstop Freddy Galvis. Hernandez led the team in batting average, on-base percentage, triples and walks, while Galvis had a career-high 20 homers and 67 RBIs.
General manager Matt Klentak made key signings during the off-season to put the Phillies in a better position for success.
One factor in freeing up spending money is the absence of long time Phillie Ryan Howard from the books. Philadelphia declined the $23 million option on Howard’s contract back in November providing relief for money to be spent on strengthening the roster.
Adding veterans Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders to pair with All-star center fielder Odubel Herrera may help a Phillies team defensively that ranked 22 in defensive efficiency rating. Kendrick and Saunders are best known for their offensive contributions and may provide some offensive numbers to a lineup that was ranked the second worse in batting average last season.
The starting rotation will see some familiar faces this season but some new ones also.
A December trade with the Boston Red Sox brought Clay Buchholz to Citizen’s Bank Park to help a staff that posted a team E.R.A. of 4.63 last season. Buchholz did struggle last year with Boston finishing the season with a 8-10 record and a 4.78 E.R.A.
A lot of question marks surround the closer role for the club headed into 2017 after a shaky September from Jeanmar Gomez. Gomez started off the season hot for the Phillies before struggling down the stretch, but could be the option to continue that role at the season’s beginning.
Eyes also will be on the young prospects of the organization who are expected to get some playing time throughout the season.
The NL East will continue to be a tough division for Philadelphia that houses strong teams in Washington, New York, Miami and an up and coming young Atlanta Braves team.
Pitcher and catchers report Tuesday for spring training. The Philles kick off their first game of spring training Feb. 23 against the University of Tampa Spartans.