Phils enter camp with .500 as realistic goal

Phils enter camp with .500 as realistic goal

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Phillies squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies took a step forward last season, winning eight more games than they won in 2015.

Of course, they still finished 71-91.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin believes his team can make a similar jump this year. Heck, he thinks the Phillies might be even better than that. He spoke last month about possibly being a .500 team. If it happens, it will be the first time the Phillies have finished a season at .500 or better since 2012, when they were 81-81.

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"We might not go from 'A' to 'Z,' getting to the World Series," Mackanin said. "But I think we're going to go 'A' to 'F' or 'A' to 'G.' We're going to start making our move toward more wins."

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The Phillies made a few improvements in the offseason. They signed free agents Michael Saunders and Joaquin Benoit. They re-signed Jeremy Hellickson and Andres Blanco. They acquired Howie Kendrick, Clay Buchholz and Pat Neshek in trades. But while those moves improved the roster, the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's team is experience. The Phillies believe they will be better if their younger players simply use the experience they have gained to make improvements.

The offense already showed some signs of improvement in 2016. It averaged 3.33 runs per game in April and 3.0 runs per game in May, but 4.07 runs per game in June, 3.78 runs per game in July, 4.31 runs per game in August and 4.07 runs per game in September. Nobody will ever confuse them for the 2008 Phillies, who averaged 4.93 runs per game, but the bats have shown enough of an uptick to make the team believe it will continue to move in the right direction.

Mackanin cited third baseman Maikel Franco as another example. Franco, 24, hit .255 with 25 home runs, 88 RBIs and a .733 OPS last season, which was his first full season in the big leagues. Not bad, but not great. Certainly not what the Phillies need from a hitter in the middle of their lineup.

"I don't consider that a good year for him," Mackanin said. "Even though for most people it's a real good year. I expect a lot out of him. I think he's going to improve with experience. I think he's going to blossom into a perennial All-Star-caliber player."

There are others, too. There is Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph in the field; Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola in the rotation; and Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos in the bullpen.

If those players alone make incremental improvements and the veterans do what they are supposed to do, .500 should be realistic.

Pitchers and catchers report to camp on Feb. 13 and the first full-squad workout is Feb. 17.

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