The Phillies, who begin “Summer Camp” on Friday, would seem to be well-suited for a 60-game season, both with their roster and their recent history.
In the last two seasons, the Phillies have gotten off to strong starts only to get tripped up over the final month of a 162-game season.
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Last season, the Phillies were 33-27 after 60 games and in first place in NL East – and that was after a five-game losing streak. The Phillies ended up at 81-81, extending their streak of non-winning seasons to eight.
In 2018, the Phillies were 32-28 after 60 games and in third place. The Phillies eventually got to 15 games over .500 at 64-49 in early August before going 16-33 to end the season.
This season, the Phillies should be in contention for a playoff spot, even with seven players testing positive for COVID-19. It’s possible that those players could be ready for the start of the season on July 23 or 24th considering they tested positive in mid-June.
Here, then, are 10 things to like about the Phillies in 2020:
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1. On guard with Girardi
Joe Girardi replaced Gabe Kapler as manager after last season. Girardi has a wealth of experience, both in the regular season and postseason, after managing the Yankees from 2008-17. His teams never won fewer than 84 games. The Yankees reached the postseason in six of those 10 seasons, winning the World Series in 2009 over the Phillies.
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2. Year 2 from Bryce Harper
Last season, Bryce Harper was everything the Phillies hoped for, both at the plate and in the field. Harper had 35 homers, 114 RBIs and stole 15 bases in his first season in Philadelphia. He also walked 99 times and had an on-base percentage of .372. Harper missed just five games last season. With the designated hitter this season, Harper should play in all 60.
3. DH strong
The Phillies seem better suited than most National League teams for the designated hitter, which will be used fulltime this season for the first time in the NL. Jay Bruce, who hit 26 homers last season in just 310 at-bats between Seattle and the Phillies, would be a natural to get most of the at-bats as the DH, especially against right-handed pitchers.
But the Phillies could also use catcher J.T. Realmuto, Harper, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and rookie phenom Alec Bohm (more later) in that role instead of giving those players full days off.
Bruce as a DH also makes for …
4. Better outfield defense
Because of the DH, the Phillies won’t have to rely on Bruce in left field, or McCutchen in center now that he has recovered from knee surgery last summer. The Phillies will likely use a platoon of the speedy Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley in center field, with McCutchen in left. In right field, Harper led all NL outfielders in assists last season.
5. Bohm squad?
The Phillies might decide to begin the season with Alec Bohm, their power-hitting first-round pick in 2018, right away, rather than keep him off the big-league roster for the first week in order to delay the start of his service time.
The Phillies did this with Scott Kingery in 2018. If they’re serious about contending, they should do the same thing with Bohm. The Phillies can use Bohm at first base, third base and designated hitter to get his bat in the lineup almost every day.
6. Spencer for hire
While we’re on the subject of rookie phenoms, the Phillies have another in pitcher Spencer Howard. Back in February, the plan was for the Phillies to limit Howard’s innings this season after he was shut down last season with a sore shoulder.
That is no longer an issue, and Howard could find himself either as the fifth starter or as a long reliever.
The Phillies might wait a week before putting Howard on the roster in order to delay his service time clock. That way, they can go through the pitching rotation once, then bring in Howard to serve as a long reliever, or even as the fifth starter.
7. The Didi effect
The Phillies solidified their infield by signing shortstop Did Gregorius as a free agent. That enables Scott Kingery to play his natural position at second base, while the combination of Jean Segura and Alec Bohm can play third.
Gregorius and Kingery combined to hit 35 homers last season, which should give the Phillies a powerful middle infield. Gregorius hit 16 homers in 2019 while missing the first half of the season recovering from elbow surgery. He had hit at least 20 homers in the three previous seasons.
8. Nola and the rotation
A shortened season should help the Phillies’ rotation. They have two strong starters in Aaron Nola and free agent signee Zack Wheeler. Jake Arrieta is healthy after missing most of last season, and Zach Eflin is the fourth starter.
The Phillies will have a competition for the fifth spot among Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Ranger Suarez. Look for Howard to ultimately end up with that spot.
9. A better bullpen
Or, at least a healthier one. The Phillies aren’t as reliant on injured veterans like Tommy Hunter and David Robertson, who’s also out for 2020, as they were last season. Seranthony Dominguez is also out for the season.
Still, the bullpen will have to be better than it was last season. That begins with Hector Neris duplicating his strong season in 2019 as the full-time closer. Adam Morgan should be the setup man, and Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano will also have roles.
In addition, Howard and veteran Francisco Liriano could provide long relief, along with whoever doesn’t win the competition for the fifth starter.
10. Plenty of Marlins and Orioles
In a 60-game season, the Phillies will play 14, or just about one-fourth, of their games against two of the worst teams in baseball in the Marlins (10) and the Orioles (four).
While the other teams in the NL East have the same situation, that could help the Phillies in a wildcard battle with teams from the NL Central and West, who on paper should have tougher competition.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.