PHILADELPHIA -- Rhys Hoskins sat back and thought a minute, perched in the Phillies' dugout prior to a recent game. He'd been asked which record he'd been most excited about, during a final two months of the 2017 season in which he'd attached his names to so many notable accomplishments.
"There was the one with Ted Williams," Hoskins said, referring to the most home runs by a player whose season debut came after Aug. 1. "I think just to be mentioned in the same breath as Ted Williams, a guy that is widely considered to be the greatest hitter of all time -- that's pretty special. I don't know if it's hit me yet, to be honest."
Hoskins didn't just break that Williams mark -- 13, set the year Williams returned from the Korean War in 1953 -- he smashed it, crushing 18 home runs in his first 47 games of 2017, which happen to be his first 47 games as a Major Leaguer. His OPS+ of 175 would fit comfortably among the seasons of Williams' career, with his lifetime OPS+ mark of 190.
And yet, while no one is expecting Hoskins to replicate the career of Teddy Ballgame, expectations have changed for both him and his team.
On July 15, the Phillies' record stood at 29-60. Over their next 70 games, they played dead even, 35-35.
The offense, which struggled in the first half, ranks among the National League's best in the second half of the season. The bullpen has solidified, particularly in September. And the players doing it all are young, in some cases, very young.
It'll be a process, and one that will take place without Pete Mackanin, who the Phillies announced Friday will not return in 2018 as manager.
Whoever takes over in 2018 will inherit a roster full of potential. As a rookie, Nick Williams is 11 percent above league average in OPS+ while holding his own at all three outfield spots, and believes a 20-20 season is within reach. Aaron Altherr has established himself as a legitimate major league regular, hitting 19 home runs and posting an OPS+ of 128. Even Odubel Herrera, still just 25, overcame his massive slump and has an OPS+ above league average, giving the Phillies an outfield of offensive strength to build from.
The crowd there has pushed Hoskins to first, but the Phillies have an abundance of talent on the infield as well, with highly-regarded rookie J.P. Crawford playing multiple positions and controlling the strike zone well in his first time through the league, though the power and average are not yet there. Cesar Hernandez is another bright spot as a grizzled old man of 27. And though Jorge Alfaro could stand to take a walk every once in a while -- just two in 108 plate appearances -- he's still at a 112 OPS+ for the season, pushing Cameron Rupp behind the plate.
And we're not even discussing Maikel Franco, just 24 and not far removed from a gleaming prospect status himself, or the talent still to come in the pipeline like Scott Kingery.
Altherr cited the mid-September series against the Dodgers, in which the Phillies took three of four, as a leading indicator of what 2018 might bring. Hoskins did too, and so did Adam Morgan, whose emergence out of the bullpen this year was the very first breakout Mackanin cited when asked about his team.
"Sometimes we're surprising ourselves in how good we can be," Morgan said. He's seen his strikeouts per nine jump from 5.2 back in 2015, his rookie year, to 10.2 in 2017. "And that's kind of part of the learning process. Not being intimidated by everybody and just trying to stay within ourselves because we know we're good. You're here for a reason, not just to fill spots. Especially in September."
But how good are these Phillies? Is Hector Neris the shutdown closer he's been of late, with 19 straight saves? Is Morgan a reliable setup man? Besides Nola, who will slot into this rotation at the top? Is the offense ready to dominate the National League?
And that brings up back to Hoskins. The rookie said his specific 2018 goals were to hit in the middle of the lineup and be a run producer. He didn't seem surprised by his success, which makes sense -- it isn't like he's been controlling the strike zone much differently than he did at Double-A or Triple-A, and no one, even those most bearish on his long-term future, have ever questioned his power.
Even as Mackanin heads out the door, he told his players this week that "I plan on having a meeting with the players and remind them that if they think they're tired and ready to go home, it's been a long season, I'm gonna remind them if you want to go to the World Series you're gonna play an entire other month," Mackanin said. "So you better get used to it, and if you think you're tired now you better re-think re-think the whole thing, 'cause it's another full month."