By Sam Bush
In a National League East dominated by the Washington Nationals and New York Mets, the Phillies will make some noise.
It was only two years ago that the Phils lost 99 games, their highest total since 1969. Last year it improved to 71-91. The next step in its progression is a winning record.
The Phillies have assembled a nucleus of young talent that includes outfielder Odubel Herrera infielders Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez and Tommy Joseph and starting pitchers Jerad Eickhoff and Vincent Velazquez and fortified the club in the offseason by adding outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders while retaining free agent pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.
Hellickson heads an improving rotation that knocked nearly a run off its ERA last season — down to 4.41 — and could continue to get better if 2014 first-round draft pick Aaron Nola (above) bounces back from a rough year.
The Phillies also get strong defense up the middle from shortstop Freddy Galvis, second baseman Hernandez and Herrera, a Gold Glove finalist in center field who earned a five-year, $30.5 million extension.
More help will be on the way, with top prospect J.P. Crawford and catcher Jorge Alfaro being groomed at Class AAA, but there should be enough talent on the big club to post their first winning season since 2011.