We made it.
Baseball is actually back. Oh, it will be different. Fake crowd noise. Masks. Social distancing. No fans in the stands. This will be unlike any season we’ve ever experienced, but it’s still baseball.
With Opening Day (even in late July) comes hope. Based on more variance in a shorter season, hope should be high for the 2020 Phillies. Contention is expected. There’s a chance we see October baseball (even if it’s from our televisions or on our radios) in South Philly for the first time since 2011.
But how will it all go down?
Harper has become the trendy NL MVP pick, and for good reason. He’s comfortable, a fast starter and in his age-27 season. We could see something close to a 1.000 OPS, and should be disappointed if Harper is under .900 for the shortened season. We’re talking about a showman that will be extra motivated to entertain fans watching from home. New Dodgers star Mookie Betts is my NL MVP pick, but Harper is going to be in the mix in his second year in red pinstripes.
Wheeler is a good, not great pitcher. His career has been marked by injuries, inconsistency and flashes of excellence. His second half of 2018 (1.68 ERA) and 2019 (2.83 ERA) earned him over $100M from the Phillies last winter. But his ERA was over 4.00 in the first half of each of those seasons. This year will only present Wheeler a chance to make 12 or so starts (perhaps less depending on the arrival of his first child), robbing the second-half star a chance to get in the groove. Wheeler won’t be worth the money in Year 1 of a mega deal.
Howard isn’t just a good pitching prospect; he’s a power arm with top-of-the-rotation potential. With no innings limit, we could see Howard unleashed at some point. When that day arrives, don’t be surprised if we soon realize that he’s the second-best pitcher on the entire staff. This kid is going to be must-watch television.
Hoskins feels like the linchpin to a deep lineup turning into one of baseball’s best. But I’m worried about his mentality in the box, new stance (which has started to devolve back into what we saw last year) and a player being miscast as something more than he is. Hoskins is a productive big league slugger, and likely will be for a long time. But he’s not proven to be a true middle-of-the-order bat on a winner, belongs at DH rather than in the field and doesn’t seem to be mentally tough enough.
By mid-September, we’ll see Hoskins sitting for big games. Alec Bohm will be at first base, Jay Bruce will be at DH and Jean Segura will be manning third. When next offseason arrives, Hoskins’ future in Philadelphia will be in serious doubt.
Joe Girardi’s handling of Haseley/Quinn in CF reminds me of what he did with Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner in 2009 with the Yankees. Platoon. Both played (pinch running/defense) almost every game. Girardi coerced a ton (3.5 WAR, 36 SB, 114 runs) out of them combined. Obviously the stats won’t be that gaudy in a short season, but center field will not be a weakness for the Phillies.
I think Eflin is a fraud, and don’t buy that he was ruined by the last regime. He doesn’t miss enough bats, can’t survive when his stuff isn’t in the perfect spot and always seems to have a physical ailment (remember the “heavy body” last year?) that limits him. This summer, back stiffness is the issue. When Spencer Howard arrives, here’s how the Phillies rotation will look:
At the risk of getting burned again, Velasquez has the arsenal and toughness to be at least a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. He’s done enough to earn Girardi’s trust. As for Pivetta? Much like how Girardi handled a young Phil Hughes early in his career, a move to the bullpen will help him and the team. If Pivetta buys in, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a multi-inning weapon and high-leverage guy quickly.
Yes, I’m serious. The Phillies likely won’t be extremely good or bad early on. Something like 17-18 or 18-17 through 35 games feels plausible. Without a contract extension in place and so much uncertainty about the impending free-agent market, teams will call the Phillies. Klentak will do his job and answer. The Tampa Bay Rays will make a big-time offer. Klentak (with input from team owner John Middleton) will turn it down.
The Phillies, led by Harper and boosted by the eventual arrival of Bohm, should hit. The rotation, led by Nola and boosted by Howard, can be pretty good. But the bullpen is this team’s Achilles’ heel, and could turn out to be a true disaster. Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez are solid, but literally nothing else feels reliable among the potential options. Much like last year’s Nationals, trade deadline reinforcements will be needed to give the team a chance. Klentak will try, but with so few sellers in a bunched up pennant race, it will be too hard to land the right arms.
The good news: The Phillies will play their best baseball down the stretch, and come close to tracking down a division title or one of the NL Wild Card spots in the season’s final week. Real optimism for a true contender will follow the team in 2021, assuming Realmuto returns and the team spends over the luxury tax.
The bad news: Another year without October baseball will arrive in Philadelphia. Milwaukee and Arizona will claim the final playoff spots with 34 wins. The Mets take the division with the same 34 win total