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Inbox: Can Phillies be a .500 team in 2017?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers questions from fans
March 28, 2017

Manager Pete Mackanin said the Phillies could be a .500 team. How realistic is that? -- Brad N., Mankato, Minn.It is realistic, but a few things will need to happen. First, they will need solid starting pitching for six months, instead of two or three like last season. The Phillies

Manager Pete Mackanin said the Phillies could be a .500 team. How realistic is that?
-- Brad N., Mankato, Minn.

It is realistic, but a few things will need to happen. First, they will need solid starting pitching for six months, instead of two or three like last season. The Phillies pitched well early last year, which explained their 24-17 start.
But they also need significant improvements from the offense. The Phillies cannot finish last in the Majors again in scoring. They had a minus-186 run differential in 2016, which was the worst mark in the big leagues. That means they got lucky even getting to 71 wins. The offense needs to pick up the pitching staff every once in a while. If you believe players like Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cesar Hernandez, Cameron Rupp and others have not reached their potential, then improvement shouldn't be a problem.
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Who will be the first prospect promoted?
-- Kevin C., Philadelphia

Well, I was wildly wrong about this question last spring when I said Nick Williams would be the first prospect promoted. He finished his season in Triple-A.

But I am sticking with Williams, who played pretty well this spring. The club's No. 4 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com, adjusted his swing and hit the ball better late in camp. He seems more relaxed and confident, and if he carries that mojo into the season, he should put up better numbers with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The only question is, when is he promoted? The conventional wisdom is the Phillies will look to trade outfielders Howie Kendrick or Michael Saunders (or both) before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, potentially opening up a spot for Williams.
Although, don't forget about Roman Quinn. I didn't mention him because he already made his debut last September, but he will compete with Williams for that first outfield promotion.
Who will have the most saves at the end of the season?
-- Matt B., Philadelphia

Mackanin made a point to name Jeanmar Gomez his closer early in camp, despite talk from Mackanin and Phillies general manager Matt Klentak during the offseason that there could be a competition for the job this spring.

So, Gomez opens the season as the closer. If he pitches like he did the first four and a half months last year, that should be fine. But if he struggles, the Phillies could have a pretty quick hook and try Hector Neris in the role.
The prediction here is that Gomez closes most of the first half, before Neris finally takes the role and edges Gomez for the most saves.
Who finishes with the most homers?
-- Joe S., Crystal Lake, Ill.

Former Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt said earlier in camp that Franco has the talent to be a National League MVP. That remains to be seen, but he certainly should hit 30-plus home runs. He hit 25 last season, in what some would call a subpar performance.
Joseph has the best chance to challenge Franco for the team home-run title.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.