Phillies hoping to accelerate rebuild

Improvements in scoring, starting rotation keys for 2017 season

Phillies hoping to accelerate rebuild

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 -- How would the perfect season unfold?

PHILADELPHIA -- It would be a heck of an accomplishment for the Phillies to finish .500 in 2017.

They won just 71 games last year, so they will need a few things to go right to make it happen. But what if more than a few things go right? What if almost everything goes right? What might that season look like?

It puts the Phillies in the thick of the National League Wild Card race, a year or two earlier than expected.

Across the Majors, goals set for 2017

In the Phillies' "perfect season," it starts with the rotation. The Phillies jumped to an unsustainable 24-17 start last year, mostly on the strength of the rotation. It had a 3.72 ERA in that stretch, which ranked ninth in baseball. But the Phillies' starters began to struggle and get hurt at that point, and an anemic offense could not overcome it.

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The Phillies' projected five-man rotation includes Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Hellickson will have to repeat his 2016 success: He went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts. Buchholz, whom the Phillies acquired in a trade with the Red Sox, will have to pick up where he finished 2016. He posted a 6.35 ERA in his first 10 starts before moving to Boston's bullpen. He tweaked his mechanics, going 3-0 with a 3.14 ERA in five September starts.

Nola missed much of the second half because of an injured right elbow. He said he is healthy. If he is, he needs to pitch like he did in his first 12 starts (2.65 ERA) last year. Velasquez needs to hone his electric stuff and be more consistent. He went 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 24 starts.

Velasquez's 16th K ends the game

Eickhoff had a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts. If he is better, great. If he repeats 2016, the Phillies happily will take it.

But the Phillies will need more than the rotation to play better than .500. They will need to score more runs. A lot more. They finished last in baseball in scoring in 2016.

In the Phillies' perfect season, Maikel Franco becomes an All-Star third baseman, Cesar Hernandez establishes himself as one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, Tommy Joseph becomes a long-term solution at first base, Cameron Rupp makes people forget about Jorge Alfaro, Freddy Galvis allows the front office to be more patient with top prospect J.P. Crawford and Odubel Herrera challenges for the NL batting title.

Meanwhile, veterans Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders become the steadying influence the Phillies expected when they acquired them.

Oh, and Hector Neris becomes one of the better closers in baseball.

A long shot? Of course. Very rarely does everything go perfectly for a team, especially a rebuilding one like the Phillies. But it is Feb. 10 and Phillies pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout Tuesday. Why not dream a little?

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.