Bryce Harper’s first Phillies home run paces victory over Braves

Bryce Harper’s first homer leads Phillies to victory
The Phillies (2-0) powered up for the second game in a row to open the 2019 campaign, rolling past the Atlanta Braves (0-2) by an 8-6 score on Saturday afternoon at raucous Citizens Bank Park.
For the second straight game it was the club’s new-found long ball power that led the way. The team used Maikel Franco‘s second no-doubt homer of the season and the first-ever blasts from both J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper in a Phillies uniform to supply the difference.
For Harper, who agreed to a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies just one month ago, the first home run was also his first hit with the team. The second-deck shot to right-center field was one of the longest in Citizens Bank Park history and elicited a deafening roar from the home crowd, which demanded a curtain-call from their new hero.
Harper was happy to oblige, pumping both arms into the air as he faced the crowd behind the Phillies dugout and roared back at them with as much energy and excitement as they were washing over him.
“It was awesome. One of my favorite homers that I’ve ever had, definitely,” said the Phillies right fielder to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Gregg Murphy following the game.
The game didn’t begin well for the home side. The Braves broke out to a 3-0 lead on the strength of a 1st inning RBI single from Freddie Freeman and a 2nd inning two-run homer from Dansby Swanson. For Freeman it was the first of four hits on the day as he almost single-handedly kept the visitors in this one.


STARTING PITCHING PERFORMANCES

All of that damage came against Phillies starter Nick Pivetta, who did not fare well in his first outing of the season. Pivetta lasted 4.2 innings, surrendering four earned runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out four. He threw 76 pitches, 50 of those for strikes and was touched for three extra-base hits, including the Swanson homer.
Meanwhile, rookie starter Bryse Wilson was pretty much cruising along into the bottom of the 4th, allowing just a 2nd inning RBI single off the bat of Realmuto. But the Phillies got to him big-time in that home 4th, with Cesar Hernandez lacing a one-out RBI triple followed by Franco’s blast off the left-field foul pole.
Wilson was knocked out at that point having allowed four earned runs on five hits over 3.1 innings. He struck out three and walked four, throwing just 40 strikes among his 73 pitches.

PHILLIES BULLPEN AND POWER MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Freeman’s RBI single in the top of the 5th got the Braves back even at 4-4. After retiring one more batter, Pivetta’s day was done. Over the next 3.1 innings the Phillies bullpen group of Adam MorganJuan NicasioJose AlvarezPat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez would shut the Braves out without allowing a hit. The five hurlers walked two and struck out four over that period.
The home side responded immediately in the bottom of the 5th when Realmuto crushed his first Phillies home run to dead center. The two-run blast scored Rhys Hoskins and gave the Phillies a 6-4 lead that they would never relinquish.
In the bottom of the 7th, Harper provided his dramatics to make it 7-4. In the bottom of the 8th, Franco popped a fly behind first base along the foul line. Three Braves sprinted for it and the ball would end up popping from Freeman’s glove. Hernandez raced all the way around from first base to score and extend the lead out to an 8-4 margin.
Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler turned the ball over to David Robertson for the 9th inning, and for the second straight game was let down by his new big-money reliever. Robertson surrendered the first hit by the Phillies pen on the day, and it was a big one. A two-run homer from Charlie Culberson, who had entered the game as part of a double-switch, cut the Phillies lead down to 8-6.
Robertson struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce. But then Freeman continued to haunt the Phillies, raking a double down the left field line. That brought 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna to the plate as the tying run with two outs. Robertson buckled down, getting the 20-year old to sky out to Harper in right for the final out.
PHILLIES NUGGETS PLAYER OF THE GAME:
*BRYCE HARPER*

While there were players who contributed more on the day, there was no doubt that Harper electrified the crowd like no one else. His blast also proved a key hit, extending the Phillies lead at an important time in the game. Ultimately it proved to be the difference-maker.
During his post-game press conference, Kapler spoke on the first of what he expects to be many such moments for his superstar right fielder:
I thought that was a pretty special moment. I think facing Biddle, Harper had been 0-5 with something like four strikeouts. Somewhere in that neighborhood. I know it was someone that Bryce has had trouble with in the past. And, took a pitch in off the plate and hit it 460 feet into the upper deck in right-center field. His bat speed is just lightning and the bigger the spotlight, the bigger the moment, the more Bryce shines.

NEXT GAME

  • Sunday, March 31, 7:05pm vs the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park
  • TV coverage as ESPN’s Game of the Week
  • Radio: SportsRadio 94 WIP FM, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Phillies use new-found power to blast past Braves by 8-6”

2019 Philadelphia Phillies preview and predictions

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Shortstop Jean Segura part of dynamic new Phillies lineup

The Philadelphia Phillies opened the 137th season in franchise history on Thursday with a big 10-4 victory over the defending National League champion Atlanta Braves. The victory came thanks to some stellar pitching from ace Aaron Nola and a power display from the new, deep lineup.

However, as all true fans of the game know, Opening Day is just one of 162 on the regular season schedule. While it’s always nice to get off on the right foot, a win in your first game does not always portend a season of success. A loss would not condemn your team to a losing campaign.
You might be interested in taking a few moments to go back and view both my 2017 Phillies preview and 2018 Phillies preview. Both were pretty solid looks at where the team would go and how they would finish.
Two years ago when some thought the Phillies were already a .500 team, I called it a 72-90 season. The club finished 66-96. Last year, I had them improving to 82-80. Thanks to a stumbling finish they were just 80-82. Still pretty close. I guarantee you that, barring major injuries, I’ll be close again this year.

EVERYDAY LINEUP IMPROVEMENT

The biggest single factor in the Phillies improving their record from last year to this 2019 season will be the overall power and depth coming from the everyday lineup.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 28: Philadelphia Phillies Outfield Andrew McCutchen (22) is congratulated by Philadelphia Phillies Outfield Bryce Harper (3) after his lead off home run during the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies on March 28, 2019 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA.(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)
Principal owner John Middleton pushed the ball over the finish line with his work to nail down superstar right fielder Bryce Harper. Earlier in the off-season, general manager Matt Klentak did some fantastic work in signing free agents Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and adding Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto via the trade route.
Manager Gabe Kapler chose to feature three of those newcomers as the first three hitters in his Opening Day lineup on Thursday. McCutchen led off, followed by Segura and Harper. Rhys Hoskins, returning to first base, was the cleanup hitter. He was followed by Realmuto in the five spot.
That left a trio of incumbents to fill out the bottom of the order. Odubel HerreraCesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco have all been around during the struggles of the last three seasons as the franchise has tried to rebuild. All have been featured higher in the lineup previously.
The Phillies finished 22nd in runs scored and OPS among the 30 clubs of Major League Baseball a year ago. They were held to three runs or fewer 74 times in the 2018 season including in each of their final nine games.
With the addition of two former NL MVP’s (Harper and McCutchen) and four previous All-Stars (Harper, McCutchen, Segura, Realmuto) to the lineup, we can presume a big turnaround in those scoring results. The Phillies lineup now appears to be as potent, top to bottom, as any in the senior circuit.
Most of the pinch-hitting, running, and defensive bench work as well as occasional starts and injury substitution is going to come from Scott KingeryNick Williams and Aaron Altherr. All three of those players saw significant starting time at one point or another over the last two years. Andrew Knapp will again be the backup catcher.
STARTING PITCHING ROTATION DEPTH

The Phillies have both a Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrieta and a Cy Young finalist in Nola fronting their rotation. It will be difficult for Nola to equal the dominating numbers that he produced in the 2018 campaign. He doesn’t need to beat or equal them, he just needs to approximate that season and remain a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Jake Arrieta should enjoy a 2019 bounce-back campaign. (Htishler/Wikimedia Commons)
Arrieta is a different story. A year ago he was up and down. He started off hot over the first two months, then fell into a June tailspin after suffering an unreported knee injury. He bounced back with a solid July and early August as he learned to compensate for that knee, but over time it wore him down. Over the final six weeks he was a disaster.
The veteran had surgery to repair the issue and I am expecting a big bounce-back campaign from him. So much so that I am willing to call both he and Nola “givens” in the rotation. They will provide the Phillies with opportunities to win almost every time they take the mound.
The difference-making starter should prove to be Nick Pivetta. The 26-year-old begins his third big-league season and is being widely heralded as a major breakout candidate from numerous national sources. He has overpowering stuff, as demonstrated by 328 career strikeouts over 297 innings.
Pivetta’s next step may simply be mental. If he believes that he can be a front-of-the rotation starter then he can make that happen. Even if he falls a bit short, settling in as a legit #3 would be important to the Phillies postseason hopes.
Over the course of a long season, most teams will see their #4 and 5 starters in the rotation and any spot/emergency starting pitchers making 60-70 starts. The Phillies will be counting on Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin to make most of those. At least that is the plan as the season opens.
Eflin enjoyed a fine spring down in Florida. Velasquez did not. Should these two pitchers struggle it will really test the Phillies ability to stay with the top teams in what promises to be a challenging NL East race. And the team may not give either guy a very long leash.
Down at Triple-A Lehigh Valley the pitching rotation will feature four starters with various levels of big-league experience all trying to prove themselves worthy of another shot, each chomping at the bit to take advantage of any opening.
Those arms belong to right-handers Jerad EickhoffDrew Anderson and Enyel De Los Santosand lefty Ranger Suarez. Anderson was particularly impressive during the Grapefruit League and could be the first to get any needed call.

TALENTED VETERAN BULLPEN OPTIONS

Hector Neris closed 2018 strong and his continued dominance would be huge for the bullpen. (Ian D’Andrea/Flickr)
When Kapler has to go to his bullpen, he should not have to spend too many nights wringing his hands and biting his nails. Righty veterans Robertson, Pat NeshekJuan Nicasio and Hector Neris all have experience and each has enjoyed prior success.
Younger righties Seranthony Dominguez and Edubray Ramos should also play important roles. From the left side it will be Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan seeing mostly situational opportunities.
It was expected that veteran Tommy Hunter would be ready to join the mix by mid-April. He has been battling elbow soreness and was left behind at extended spring training in Florida. However, information just came out today that he suffered a setback. The club will shut him down for a few days in hopes that rest will allow him to bounce back. There is now no timetable for his return.
Down on the farm a pair of young righties in Yacksel Rios and Edgar Garcia as well as left-hander Austin Davis would likely be first in line for a promotion should a pure bullpen arm be needed
For all of the deserved hype surrounding the addition of Harper, the two most valuable additions to the Phillies ultimate success this year may end up being Segura and Realmuto. Should they lose the exciting right fielder for a bit of time, Williams can probably step in and provide solid contributions. But losing the starting shortstop or catcher for an extended period could prove troublesome. By the time this season is over, Phillies fans are going to love both players.

THE PREDICTION


There is no other way to look at this Phillies team other than as a contender, at least for a division crown. They won 80 games a year ago with a far less potent offense and a weaker bullpen. Those improvements alone should push them to the 90 win mark.
The big question marks are two-fold: can the starting pitching keep the club in most games over six full months? That may be the absolute key question. The other is one that every team in baseball faces: can the club remain mostly healthy? Injuries will inevitably hit. They always do, for every team. But keeping the key players healthy for most of the year would make a huge difference.
I am going to call this a 91-71 season. The Phillies capture one of the two National League Wildcard playoff berths available. In that Wildcard Game they match-up with old friend Cole Hamels and the Chicago Cubs, taking the Cubbies out and advancing to the NLDS.
As I predicted in my 2019 MLB Preview and Prediction piece, the Phillies drop a dramatic and emotional NLDS in four games to the division rival Washington Nationals. The Nats and their fans get one October to thumb their noses at Harper and the Phillies. But watch out in 2020 and beyond. Next off-season, Middleton and Klentak upgrade the pitching even further.

Game Preview and Notes: Braves at Phillies 3/30/2019

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Nick Pivetta takes the mound for the Phillies 

It would be hard to top the performance put on by the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Day. And yet, incredibly, there still remains room for improvement with this team as they prepare to welcome fans back to South Philly for game two of 162 on Saturday afternoon.

The Phillies (1-0) crushed the defending National League Eastern Division champion Atlanta Braves (0-1) by a 10-4 score on Thursday afternoon. The sellout crowd of 44,469 watched their heroes power their way to victory by driving three home runs, one each from Andrew McCutchen (in his first official Phillies plate appearance), Maikel Franco and Rhys Hoskins.
Those 10 runs marked the most scored by the club on Opening Day since the 2014 team out-slugged the Texas Rangers by 14-10 at Globe Life Park in Arlington. The Phillies had never treated a home opener crowd at Citizens Bank Park to a double-digit display such as that in the prior 15-year history of the ballpark.
To find the last Phillies double-digit scoring spree in a home opener you would have to go all the way back to April 12, 1991 at Veteran’s Stadium when Lenny DykstraDarren Daulton and John Kruk powered the Phillies to an 11-4 victory over the Saint Louis Cardinals. On that Friday night they knocked the Cards lefty starter out after two innings, touching him for five runs and seven hits. That pitcher’s name? Jamie Moyer.
So, how can the Phillies improve on that performance? For one, despite the power display they only managed seven total hits, taking advantage of six walks from the Braves hurlers. Newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto each went hitless at 0-3 in their debut with the team.
On the mound, while Aaron Nola was dominant at times he also walked five batters himself. He was followed to the mound by Hector Neris and David Robertson, who each threw an inning and combined to allow three earned runs on four hits and a walk while striking out no one.

SATURDAY OPPOSITION LINEUP and PREVIEW

The Phillies will face a rookie hurler making just his second big-league start on Saturday. No matter the makeup of any particular year’s club, the team has historically struggled against such arms. It would be great to see them pick him apart this afternoon.
On the mound for the Phillies will be Nick Pivetta, the darling of sabermetricians and one of this year’s popular breakout player picks by national media. Consistent solid outings from the 26-year-old right-hander will be just as important to the success of this year’s team as the new, high-powered offense.
Over the course of a 162-game regular season schedule there are going to be plenty of good days and bad days. The very best teams in baseball are going to lose around 60 games or so. You won’t always be at your best, and even when you are there is another team on the field trying to win as well, one that might be playing well itself.
This is a far deeper and more talented ball club than took the field last season. As we prepare for the second game of a long season it remains important for fans not to get too high or too low with every single game, streak or slump. But the excitement surrounding this Philadelphia Phillies ball club is wholly warranted.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

  • Pivetta (2018: 7-14, 4.77 ERA) vs. Bryse Wilson (2018: 1-0, 6.43 ERA)
  • Pivetta career stats vs. Braves: 8 GS, 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA
  • Wilson career stats vs. Phillies: n/a

PHILLIES NUGGETS PRE-GAME NOTES

  • In 29 career games on the Citizens Bank Park mound, Pivetta has a .249 batting average against. The righty has surrendered 143 hits over 151.1 innings with a 184/43 K:BB ratio. He has also been touched for 28 home runs.
  • Wilson was a fourth round pick by the Braves in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft. The right-hander will be making just his fourth big-league appearance, his second start. Won his only other starting assignment last August 20 at Pittsburgh, going five shutout innings allowing three hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Became youngest pitcher to ever win a 1-0 game in their big-league debut. Currently Atlanta’s #7 ranked prospect.
  • Harper has slashed .276/.393/.515 over 113 career games vs Atlanta. His 25 homers against the Braves are his most vs any MLB opponent.
  • Nick Markakis has slashed .294/.400/.471 vs Pivetta and is the only Braves current batter to hit a home run off him.
  • Following Sunday afternoon’s game the Phillies have an off-day on Monday before heading to Washington for the Nationals home opener on Tuesday. A quick two-game set will mark Harper’s first trip back to D.C., where he played his first seven seasons. Should make for an, uh, interesting couple of games. Club then returns for a six-game homestandwhich wraps with another three vs Washington.

SATURDAY’S PROGRAMMING INFORMATION

  • First Pitch: 4:05 p.m.
  • Location: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA
  • TV: FS1, NBCSP+
  • Pre-game special: NBCSP+ at 2PM: “Signing Harper”, well-made breakdown on the Phillies off-season process
  • Radio: SportsRadio WIP, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)

2019 MLB preview and predictions

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Paul Goldschmidt powers up the Saint Louis Cardinals for 2019

With the 2019 Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules drawing to a close this week, all eyes are now squarely focused on Opening Day. All 30 teams in Major League Baseball will be playing in the regular season on Thursday.

How will superstars such as Bryce Harper with the Philadelphia Phillies, Manny Machado with the San Diego Padres, and Paul Goldschmidt with the Saint Louis Cardinals fare in their new homes? Which teams will become surprise contenders? Which major injuries will derail a team’s postseason hopes?
Each new MLB campaign comes with its own unique storylines. This year will be no different. Over the coming six months there will be excitement, drama, heartbreak, and controversy as each club plays out its 162-game schedule.
For years now I’ve been looking into my own personal crystal ball to make predictions for MLB’s division winners and individual award winners as well as my picks for the postseason.
A year ago in my 2018 MLB Preview and Predictions piece, I got four of the six divisions correct. I missed out on the Milwaukee Brewers edging my Chicago Cubs pick for the NL Central, as well as the Atlanta Braves, who I had for third place in the NL East.
My NL Wildcards were those Brewers and the Colorado Rockies. So the Braves were the only NL playoff team that I missed. In the AL, I had the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels as those Wildcard teams. Right divison, wrong team, as the Oakland Athletics actually captured an AL Wildcard spot instead of those Halos.
For the Fall Classic, I predicted that the defending champion Houston Astros would repeat by downing the Cubs in five games in a match-up between the two previous World Series titlists.
Those Cubs would end up losing a thrilling 2-1 NL Wildcard Game to the Rockies at Wrigley Field. The Astros returned to the ALCS, but were eliminated in five games by the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
Since I am writing for a Phillies-centric site, a bit of a disclaimer: this piece is not Phillies-centric. There will be plenty of times here at Phillies Nation where we cover the wider story of Major League Baseball. As for our favorite home nine, well, you are going to have to look elsewhere if you want to find a “homer” World Series prediction. At least this year.
Now time to reveal my predictions for the upcoming 2019 season. As always, I would love to hear your own picks in the comments section or on social media. Play ball!

2019 NATIONAL LEAGUE AWARD WINNERS

MOST VALUABLE PLAYERPaul Goldschmidt, Saint Louis
Contenders: Bryce Harper PHI, Nolan Arenado COL, Christian Yelich MIL, Ronald Acuna ATL, Cody Bellinger LAD
CY YOUNG AWARDStephen Strasburg, Washington
Contenders: Max Scherzer WAS, Noah Syndergaard NYM, Jack Flaherty STL, Aaron Nola PHI, Patrick Corbin WAS
ROOKIE OF THE YEARVictor Robles, Washington
Contenders: Alex Reyes STL, Fernando Tatis Jr. SD, Nick Senzel CIN, Luis Urias SD, Chris Paddack SD
MANAGER OF THE YEARDave Martinez, Washington
Contenders: Joe Maddon CHC, Dave Roberts LAD, Dave Martinez WAS, Gabe Kapler PHI
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEARCorey Seager, Los Angeles
Contenders: Yu Darvish CHI, Alex Reyes STL, Josh Donaldson ATL, Andrew Miller STL
2019 AMERICAN LEAGUE AWARD WINNERS
MOST VALUABLE PLAYERCarlos Correa, Houston
Contenders: Giancarlo Stanton NYY, Mike Trout LAA, Mookie Betts BOS, Alex Bregman HOU, Francisco Lindor CLE
CY YOUNG AWARDChris Sale, Boston
Contenders: Gerrit Cole HOU, Blake Snell TB, Justin Verlander HOU, Trevor Bauer CLE, James Paxton NYY
ROOKIE OF THE YEAREloy Jimenez, Chicago
Contenders: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.TOR, Josh James HOU, Danny Jansen TOR, Yusei KikuchiSEA
MANAGER OF THE YEARBrad Ausmus, Los Angeles
Contenders: Aaron Boone NYY, A.J. Hinch HOU, Bob Melvin OAK, Kevin Cash TB, Alex CoraBOS, Terry Francona, CLE
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEARByron Buxton, Minnesota
Contenders: Gary Sanchez NYY, Miguel Cabrera DET, Aaron Sanchez TOR, Jonathan Schoop MIN
2019 MLB DIVISIONAL & WILDCARD PREDICTIONS
NATIONAL LEAGUE
NL EAST: Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York, Miami
Since their franchise moved to Washington, the Phillies and Nationals have never been involved in a genuine NL East campaign where both were contenders. That changes this year and likely for years to come, and the Harper move adds a next level of spice to the budding arch-rivalry. But the Braves also have a lot of good young talent. I’ve been referring to the Mets as the “Mess” for years. Something always seems to go wrong, and until they prove it on the field, I’ll say the same this year. The Marlins are simply a rebuilding non-factor for the most part. This should prove to be a division where key injuries go a long way towards deciding things each year for awhile.
NL CENTRAL: Saint Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
A contending Cardinals team is nearly as certain as death and taxes. The arch-rival Cubs and defending division champ Brew Crew should each again be strong. This looks a bit like the NL East to me, a real three-team dog fight that may only be settled by key injuries and big September head-to-head battles. The Reds are better, but not good enough. The Bucs also have talent, just not enough to keep up with the leaders here. This could well be baseball’s “black and blue” division in 2019, with no truly easy divisional opponents.
NL WEST: Los Angeles, Colorado, San Diego, Arizona, San Francisco
The Dodgers have won six straight divisional crowns and eight of the last 11 in the west. You want to be the best? Gotta beat the best. The Rockies are talented and the Padres are coming, but Los Angeles still looks to me like they have enough of everything – assuming health of their key performers. The Dbacks and Giants may need to start more seriously thinking about major rebuilding plans or face years of non-contention here.
NL WILDCARDS: Philadelphia, Chicago – welcome back to the MLB postseason, Phillies Nation! Oh, and how would you like to try an Aaron Nola – Cole Hamels winner-take-all pitching match-up on for size?
AMERICAN LEAGUE
AL EAST: Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Baltimore
The Bosox and Yankees could each well win 100 games again this year. Last year, Boston’s 108 victories gave them an eight-game cushion on their arch-rivals. I think it will be much closer this time around. The Rays almost always put up more of a fight than anyone believes, so much so that we now expect it. The Jays have possibilities down the road, but not in 2019. If you are looking for a current sad-sack story in the AL, well, there should prove to be plenty of seats available all summer at gorgeous Camden Yards in Baltimore. It’s worth the ride, Philly.
AL CENTRAL: Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City
I truly believe that they are no longer at the level of the American League’s ‘Big Three’ ball clubs. But something tells me that Terry Francona is once again going to get the most out of his team. The Twins have been the fashionable pick as a surprise American League contender. If that turns out true, I believe it will have to be for a Wildcard berth. The Chisox have a ton of serious young talent coming, but it may take another couple of years to pull it all together. I just don’t see any scenario where either the Tigers or Royals contend here for the next few years.
AL WEST: Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Texas
The Astros won the first World Series in franchise history two years ago, were good enough to win it last year, and remain one of the favorites in 2019. Everyone else here is fighting for Wildcard relevance. With Mike Trout locked up for the rest of his career, look for the Angels to do everything in their power to start putting more pieces in place around him to truly contend. The A’s over-achieved last year. I don’t believe in them doing it again at that level. And there is just not enough talent in either Seattle or Texas for a playoff push, and may not be for a few years to come.
AL WILDCARDS: New York, Los Angeles
2019 MLB PLAYOFFS & WORLD SERIES
Two years ago, I predicted that the Washington Nationals would finally end years of postseason frustration and capture the first-ever World Series title in franchise history, defeating the Boston Red Sox in seven games. It didn’t happen as the Nats were edged out by the Cubs in a five-game NLDS.
Now with Harper gone to the division-rival Phillies, some might think that the Nationals best chances to win are over. Not so. There is plenty of talent and veteran leadership remaining in the nation’s capital. What was already the best starting rotation in the NL may have gotten better and deeper. And the Nats will replace Harper with the dynamic Robles, my NL Rookie of the Year choice.
I’m going to pick Washington to finally win a playoff series. It will be the first since the move to D.C. from Montreal, and only the second in franchise history. Not only that, but the Nats take it a step further, finally pushing their way into the Fall Classic behind strong pitching and a versatile lineup.
After the Phillies and Aaron Nola win the NL Wildcard Game over the Cubs the local crew is dispatched in an emotional NLDS by the Nationals. The Cardinals knock the Dodgers off the National League perch. And then the Nats take out Saint Louis in the NLCS.
The American League should once again be dominated by a Big Three made up of the defending world champion Boston Red Sox, their arch-rivals the New York Yankees, and the 2017 champion Houston Astros.
I’ll be stunned if the American League pennant winner does not come from one of those three ball clubs. Honestly, I cannot pick between those three. The Yanks overpower Mike Trout and the Angels in the AL Wildcard Game, then dispatch the Astros in an ALDS. The rival Bosox take out the Indians in the other ALDS, setting up a classic rivalry ALCS.
Picking a winner in a Yankees-Red Sox series is always a tricky proposition. But repeating is very difficult, and something is telling me that the Yanks, who have not been back to the World Series since their 2009 win a decade ago over the Phillies, are ready to power their way back to the Fall Classic.
And then, much to the chagrin of Harper and the Phillies, I am going to predict that the Washington Nationals erase their name from the list of seven MLB teams to never win a World Series. Call it Washington in six games over the Bronx Bombers.
And there we have it, my 2019 Major League Baseball preview and predictions. Feel free to leave your own picks in the comments section, and let’s get ready to play ball.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as Matt Veasey’s 2019 Major League Baseball preview and predictions

Phillies incumbents Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez face pivotal seasons

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Hernandez again finds himself in Phillies Opening Day lineup

The starting lineup of position players scheduled to take the field for the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Day of the 2019 season bears little resemblance to the one from just a year ago.

With Rhys Hoskins returning full-time to first base from left field, just two of the eight starting position players from manager Gabe Kapler‘s first-ever regular season starting lineup on March 29, 2018 are back this year at the same position.
Those two players are second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco. Hernandez was the leadoff man with Franco batting seventh last year. The early line is that they will hit seventh and eighth respectively this time around.
The other six players are clearly a part of the Phillies future: Andrew McCutchen (LF), Jean Segura (SS), Bryce Harper (RF), Hoskins (1B), J.T. Realmuto (C) and Odubel Herrera (CF) are players whose jerseys and shirseys the fans can feel comfortable purchasing and getting a lot of use out of, at least for the next few years.

Hernandez and Franco are opening as starters once again, but both players are squarely on the proverbial hot seat. Each is operating on a one-year contract. Hernandez is eligible for arbitration once again next off-season and then is scheduled to become a free agent following the 2020 campaign. Franco has two more arbitration years remaining.

Kingery will begin the 2019 season serving as a utility player, backing up both Franco and Hernandez as well as shortstop and in the outfield. (Ian D’Andrea)
While general manager Matt Klentak will certainly be working hard to get Realmuto and Hoskins signed for the long-term, the Phillies have made no such overtures to either Hernandez or Franco.
Hernandez produced career highs in home runs (15), RBI (60), and runs scored (91) a year ago while tying a career high with 19 steals. However, in 131 more plate appearances he produced eight fewer extra-base hits than the year prior. His batting average dropped more than 40 points and his OPS was down by 75 points.
Franco saw 158 fewer plate appearances last year than in 2017 due to some late injury issues. Those kept him from finishing with his best overall career numbers, at least since his solid rookie campaign back in 2015.
Turning 29 in late May, Hernandez needs to produce this year if he wants to continue holding off the looming specter of soon to be 25-year-old Scott Kingery as the starting second baseman. Kapler will open the year with Hernandez, using Kingery again as a jack-of-all trades utility player. But that could change at some point should the veteran struggle.
If it turns out that Kingery is the future in Philly at the Keystone position, Hernandez is still playing for a contract and starting future in Major League Baseball with some other team during his early-30’s.
At the start of spring training, Franco and Kingery were placed into an open competition for the starting third base job, but it never really came to pass. Kapler instead used Kingery all over the diamond with a half-dozen appearances each at third and second, another five in center field, and even two games at shortstop.
Kingery led the club with 11 runs scored and was tied for second with five extra-base hits. But Franco also produced five extra-base hits and led the club with nine RBI. Both players homered twice.
Kapler liked what he saw from both players, but in the end re-emphasized the flexibility and versatility that Kingery can provide for now in floating around at a handful of positions. The skipper also liked what he saw from his incumbent at the hot corner this spring per Jack McCaffery at the Delaware Count Daily Times:

Mikey had a tremendous spring, driving the ball to right-center field, particularly as of late. He’s had really good success against (Atlanta opening day starter Julio) Teheran in the past. And as a side note, he will be batting eighth and he has had some success in the eight-hole in the past. He’s a guy who can hit 25 home runs and drive in 80-plus runs every year batting before the pitcher. That’s a pretty advantageous position to be in and it makes our lineup even stronger.”

Hernandez slashed just .241/.290/.310 with two walks and two runs scored over nine games in the Grapefruit League. He also battled a hip flexor strain that knocked him out of action for more than two weeks during the first half of March.
I want to score 100-plus runs,” said Hernandez back in the middle of March per Corey Seidman for NBC10 Philadelphia. “Having guys like Segura, Bryce, Realmuto, it will be nice.
That would indeed be nice. But that won’t only depend on the new guys. Those guys are proven big-league All-Stars who are far more likely than not to produce strong seasons. Whether Hernandez scores a ton of runs or not this year largely depends on his ability to get on-base consistently.
There had been speculation that the Phillies might try to go after Nolan Arenado in free agency following this 2019 season. That ended with Arenado’s agreement to a long-term deal with his Colorado Rockies team. There remains speculation that Harper’s former teammate in Washington, Anthony Rendon, could be a Phillies free agent third base target next winter.
Odds are that this is Hernandez’ last chance to prove that he can be a starting second baseman for a contending team, at least in Philadelphia. Franco may have a bit longer of a leash, but that depends on his own production and the availability of replacement options. With Kingery developing and already signed long-term, there is no such concern over a replacement option for Hernandez.