Saturday, June 12, 2021

2021 NL East Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

The NL East is going to be one of the toughest divisions in Baseball, so here is a 2021 season preview of Philadelphia Phillies.

The 2020 Philadelphia Phillies were much like the 2019 Phillies and the recent Phillies’ teams before them. They had talent and even had some hype. They hired Joe Girardi as a new manager, added Zack Wheeler to their starting rotation and signed Didi Gregorius to sure up their infield. But at the end of the day, Philadelphia could not break through. The Phillies lost seven of their final 10 games, ended the season below .500 (28-32) and are now just one season away from a decade without a winning season. 

This being a Nationals site, it is only natural to relate the Phillies back to Bryce Harper, but he really isn’t the story here. He’s going to produce 4-5 WAR, barring another big year or injury and he should play a key role in the Phillies’ success. Besides Harper, Philadelphia has a strong lineup with Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, Gregorius and National League Rookie of the Year runner-up, Alec Bohm. 

The issue in Philadelphia is pitching and that has been the issue more times than not during the past decade. Last year, led by Aaron Nola and Wheeler, the starters pulled their weight. The bullpen on the other hand was one of the worst in the history of baseball with a combined 7.06 ERA and more blown saves, 12, than actual saves, 11. Fixing the bullpen is the key to their success. 

Philadelphia had a rocky offseason that started with whispers that the Phillies were now poor and that years of “Stupid Money” spending had come back to haunt them. A month or so after those reports, the team brought in Dave Dombrowski. Like many observers, I thought this was an odd move as Dombrowski loves to spend money on high-priced free agents and blow up farm systems in trades for big name talent. Philadelphia was already “poor” weeks before this addition and didn’t really have enough valued prospects on the farm to ship out.

After Dombrowski came in, Phillies’ owner John Middleton dug a little deeper in his pockets and found enough money to bring back Realmuto and Gregorious from the previous year’s sub-.500 team. Those additions hadn’t moved the needle the two previous years and, chances are, without improved pitching, they won’t move it this year either.

Thankfully for Philadelphia fans, those are not the only two moves that the front office made. They also signed right-handed reliever Archie Bradley, who has posted a 2.95 ERA since being converted to a reliever in 2017, and acquired left hander Jose Alvarado, who posted a 3.46 ERA in his career. Both of these new acquisitions have experience closing and will join incumbent closer Hector Neris to help protect leads late in the game. Another potentially interesting addition was reliever Hector Rondon. Though the right-handed reliever struggled in Arizona last season and is only on a minor-league deal, he was a key member of a Houston bullpen that went to back-to-back World Series appearances in 2018 and 2019. 

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The Phillies also boosted their starting pitching depth by adding Ivan Nova and Matt Moore. After spending last season pitching in Japan for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, Moore is looking to re-establish himself as a quality left-handed starter in the Majors. 

The signings this offseason are nice, but the story continues to be about the pitching. If the bullpen is better, the team’s record will be better. It is as simple as that. Nola and Wheeler will have to do as well as they did in 2020 along with third starter Zach Eflin, who had a career-best 3.97 ERA. Over the wear and tear of 162 games, their performance could be negatively impacted. I would not say that the Phillies are considered a real threat to win the division this year, but if everything falls into place, they certainly could cause some headaches for the rest of the NL East.

Edited by: Jonathan Mailloux

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