Ahhh spring time. The wonderful time of year where baseball is relevant again. The crack of the bat, the smack of a fastball into a well-oiled mitt, and all of the other saccharine horseshit that so many hacky poets and songwriters have tried to immortalize over the past century.
But yes, it’s time for another EXCITING and TREMENDOUSLY LONG season of Phillies baseball. Pitchers and catchers have once again reported to Clearwater, Tom McCarthy is putting a finishing layer of turtle wax on his already magnificent skull, and the outfield Tiki Bar is readying itself for the imminent arrival of Larry Andersen.
And of course spring training brings along throngs of predictive columns from sports writers basing their evaluations on offseason maneuverings, past performances, and the 20 or so half-speed pitches thrown by disinterested pitchers in shorts before they play 36-holes of golf.
Making predictions and evaluations of a team that has yet to play one inning of meaningful baseball with, quite literally, EIGHT months of baseball remaining is high folly at best and an exercise in futility that I am most definitely not above. I’m sure resident Phillies expert Bob Wankel will be along later to provide you all with MUCH MORE in-depth and intelligent preview of the squad, but for right now old Uncle Coggin is at the helm and we’re on a crash course with the new baseball year.
So what can we expect out of the 2020 Phillies? The 2019 squad finished at 81-81, the poster child of mediocrity in Major League Baseball, and jettisoned new wave crystal fanatic Gabe Kapler in the offseason. Kapler, whose innovative and analytically-based decision making processes led him to lean heavily on his old pal Sean Rodriguez for most of last season, will take his collection of Himalayan salt lamps and Tibetan singing bowls to San Francisco for the 2020 season.
Kapler, of course, will be followed by Joe Girardi to take up the managerial helm for the next three seasons. Fans and media members were impressed by Girardi’s ability to speak to them like a regular human being and not like one of the Bobs from Office Space during his introductory press conference.
The Phillies brought in a new manager, spent money on two key free agents, and have several returning veterans to hopefully steady an inconsistent lineup that vastly under performed last season…. so why do I feel like 2020 isn’t going to be vastly different than 2019?
The Phillies signed Zach Wheeler to a 5-year, $118 million contract. That’s good!
Didi Gregorius signed a one-year, $14 million prove-it contract to replace the departing human piece of soggy toast that was Cesar Hernandez. Love it!
They invested no other major free agency money to bolster one of the worst bullpens in baseball last year or bring in a competent back end starter for their rotation. That’s bad!
The Phillies spent money like a freshman in college who bought a new Macbook Pro and a 75-inch HD tv for his dorm room, but forgot to budget any money for books for the semester or food. Wheeler and Gregorius are both worth their contract, but the organizational insistence to not dip into the luxury tax forced them to bargain hunt for bullpen arms who wouldn’t fall apart by July.
Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris, Drew Storen… the Phillies ventured heavily into the Walmart bargain basement bin for washed up relievers and are very much hoping to strike gold, or at least anything that isn’t lead lined, with one of them. But how could we forget! Tommy Hunter signed a one-year deal to impress the analytics devotees for the 10 games he pitches in before getting hurt again.
The Phillies are also depending on Andrew “Lawrence” McCutchen, a 33-year-old veteran coming off a major knee injury, to return to 2019 form. That’s less than great! They’re also depending on Seranthony Dominguez, an at-times dominant relief pitcher, to successfully come back from months of rehab when he opted to forego Tommy John surgery last season to bolster a pathetic bullpen. This does not inspire great hope!
Girardi is a better manager than Kapler, but he can’t hit, and he can’t pitch. Will the modicum of success Adam Haseley experienced last season when he wasn’t getting injured translate to a full season? Can Scott Kingery’s noodle arm make the throws from third base? Has Roman Quinn already bruised his spine lacing up his cleats in the clubhouse? These are all very big question marks that nobody really has the answers to right now.
Oh… and I almost forgot…. but once possible franchise cornerstone Rhys Hoskins is coming off a second half of baseball in 2019 where he hit .180, only hit nine home runs, and saw his on-base percentage plummet from .401 in the first half to .318. But don’t worry, he’s lowered his hands and is tinkering with a new batting stance so he can’t be that abysmal again, right? RIGHT?!
They’re improved, sure, but for me I don’t see how this team is going to compete with the likes of the Nationals and the Braves in the NL East. Bryce Harper should have another big year and J.T. Realmuto will continue to be a rock the pitching staff can depend on (as long as he’s not disgruntled by May if the Phillies continue to try to save a few bucks in arbitration).
I think they’ll win a few more games than 2019, but not many more due to a shaky bullpen and an inconsistent starting rotation that is hoping against hope that Wheeler stays healthy, Jake Arrieta comes back from injury, and either Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta can put together a somewhat respectable season as the fifth starter.
Look for the Phillies to win between 83 and 86 games this season and may God have mercy on us all.