Tag Archives: Zack Wheeler

Offensive ending to 2019 a harbinger for winning Phillies in 2020?

There is no arguing that the Philadelphia Phillies 2019 season can rightly be considered a failure. The final 81-81 record and fourth place divisional finish was a major disappointment to an organization and fan base that began the season with lofty expectations.

The Phillies entered the season’s final month with a winning record at 69-65. Though they had fallen to third place by that point, the club was still squarely in the postseason hunt at just 3.5 games behind the second NL Wildcard playoff berth.

Over that final month, the Phillies produced just a 12-16 record, collapsing in both the standings and that playoff hunt. In the end, they finished eight games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for that second NL Wildcard spot.

However, despite the losing record during the month of September 2019, there were positive signs which might bode well for the 2020 Phillies campaign to come.

While much was made last season of injuries to the bullpen and inconsistencies across the starting pitching rotation – and those did indeed exist, and were obvious contributing factors to the final record – one fundamental offensive statistic also reveals a big part of the problem.

In 2019, the Phillies offense finished 14th, or middle-of-the-pack among the 30 teams of Major League Baseball, with 774 runs scored. Seems about what you might expect for a .500 ball club, right?

But when you take a glance only a little bit beyond those overall numbers you find more than just a middling group of run producers. The 2019 Phillies hitters cannot even be considered to have been simply inconsistent. This was actually a truly schizophrenic bunch.

The magic number for the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies turned out to be four. Score four or more runs, and you win the vast majority of the time. Don’t reach that mark and you lose.

The Phillies were 72-23 during the 2019 season in those games in which the offense produced at least four runs scored. That figure was fourth-best in the 15-team National League, trailing only the baseball’s top regular season club, the LA Dodgers, as well as the World Series champion Washington Nationals and the NL Central champion Saint Louis Cardinals.

However, when the Phillies offense failed to reach that four-run mark, the club went just 9-58, a .134 winning percentage that was 14th of the 15 National League clubs.

The deficient pitching was a big part of that latter poor record. When the Phillies offense couldn’t score, the pitching wasn’t good enough to win games on their own.

For some perspective, the franchise-record 102-win Phillies team of 2011 failed to score at least four runs in 78 games. Last year’s club was 11 games better in that regard. The 2011 club with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez leading the way finished just 13th in the NL in runs scored that year.

But that 2011 Phillies ball club also went 30-48 during games in which their offense failed to score at least four runs. It was the outstanding pitching of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Vance Worley, and a solid bullpen led by closer Ryan Madson that made such a record possible.

The Phillies addressed their offensive shortcoming that year, acquiring the dynamic bat of Hunter Pence just prior to the trade deadline. The club produced at least four runs in 27 of the first 36 games with Pence in the lineup and nearly doubled their lead in the NL East over that six week period.

The point of all this being that had the 2019 Phillies been able to score at least four runs more frequently – and they averaged 4.78 per game – they would have been a winning ball club. That’s even with their poor pitching. They may even have been a playoff team. Of the top eight teams in average runs scored per game, seven reached the 2019 postseason.

Despite their poor 12-16 record over the month of September, the offense finally began to produce more consistently. During the season’s final month the Phillies set a new franchise record for home runs in a single month by slugging 46 long balls.

It wasn’t just a power surge. Beginning with games of August 27, the Phillies stole 23 consecutive bases without being caught. This was the first such successful stolen base streak by the club in a decade. Their 81.3% success rate overall in 2019 was the fifth-best by any Phillies team since the statistic was first tracked over a half-century ago.

With the increased power linked up to the effective use of speed over that final month, the Phillies offense produced at least four runs in 16 of 28 games. The hitters averaged 6.78 runs scored per game during the month, two more runs per game than over the full season.

Certainly the Phillies 2020 offense cannot be expected to score four or more runs in 90 games, and the team will not average more than 6.5 runs per game. That would be the pace set by the team in September of last season.

Also, it wasn’t as if much of that increased production came from those expected to be regulars in 2020. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, the club’s two most consistently productive hitters over the course of the season, had fairly normal production levels in September.

Meanwhile, a few of the others had a poor month. Rhys Hoskins slashed just .170/.274/350 over 117 plate appearances. Scott Kingery slashed .191/.232/.393 over 96 plate appearances during September. Jean Segura was .238/.253/.333 during the month. Those three, expected to be regulars in 2020, combined for nine homers, 28 RBIs, 34 runs, and nine stolen bases in September.

One of the biggest run producers for the Phillies during September 2019 was Brad Miller. The utility man received 56 plate appearances during a month in which he slashed .327/.339/.800 with eight home runs, 11 RBIs, and 12 runs scored. Miller played in 66 games and made 26 starts for the Phillies last season after joining the club in mid-June. The 30-year-old is currently a free agent.

The addition of Zack Wheeler to the starting rotation and expected better seasons from both Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta should combine with better health and consistency from the bullpen in the coming season to give the Phillies better results on the mound.

Given reasonable health in 2020 by the key players in the lineup, the increased offensive production of September 2019 could indeed be a harbinger of better days to come. The performances of Hoskins, Kingery, and Segura this coming season will be pivotal in making that happen.

Combine even a modest turn towards those better offensive numbers with a similarly modest increase in performance from the pitching staff, add them to the presence of new manager Joe Girardi, and it all could well add up to that elusive winning record and playoff berth in 2020 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

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J.T. Realmuto likely to receive record deal for catchers

Friday was the deadline for all MLB clubs to come to agreements with their arbitration-eligible players. In the event no deal could be reached, both sides were to submit 2020 salary figures on which an arbitrator would make a final ruling at hearings to be scheduled in February.

The Philadelphia Phillies were able to come to an agreement with four of the six players, all pitchers, who were eligible.

Agreeing to one-year deals with the club were projected starting pitchers Vince Velasquez ($3.6 million) and Zach Eflin ($2.625), and a pair of lefties in Jose Alvarez ($2.95) and Adam Morgan ($1.575) who will each pitch out of the bullpen.

A number of star players around the big-leagues agreed on contract figures with their clubs and will avoid the arbitration process. Those include Mookie Betts, who set a new one-year arbitration-eligible record by agreeing to a $27 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Betts’ deal with the Bosox beats the $26 million agreed to just one year ago by the Colorado Rockies and superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado. However, within weeks of that agreement, Colorado and Arenado tore it up and agreed to an eight-year, $260 million extention.

The Phillies failed to come to an agreement on a 2020 contract with two players, presumptive closer Hector Neris and All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. Figures were exchanged with both, with Neris seeking $5.2 million and the club offering $4.25, while Realmuto sought $12.4 million with the Phillies offering an even $10 million salary.

As this news broke, the doom-and-gloom segment of the Phillies fan base took to the intrawebs to complain. That’s putting it mildly in many cases. Here are some representative samples of what was blasted across Twitter:

The Phillies won’t pay their Silver Slugger, Gold Glove winning BEST CATCHER IN BASEBALL $2.4M, but they’ll pay a man who’s lowest ERA the last 3 years was 4.85 $3.7M. I’m literally sick to my stomach right now.” (@zachary_east412)

Wow this is pathetic, a guy you want to sign long term, your going to go to arbitration over 2 million dollar difference but able to settle with Vince Velasquez???? This team is completely dis functional. Now I know why we haven’t heard from management, they can’t face the fans.” (@Oreillymike23)

In any business you lock up your best assets and ensure they’re taken care of. Wouldn’t blame JT for walking when he’s a UFA and escaping this sideshow of an organization.” (@romeobluesnoine)

My response to those folks would be simple. Calm down. Slow your roll. Take a chill pill. Don’t worry. Relax.

A year ago, the Phillies exchanged figures with pitcher Aaron Nola. Entering his age 26 season, Nola was coming off a Cy Young caliber campaign. Many in the fan base similarly wrung their hands and banged out many an exasperated comment on their keyboards.

And then on the day of their scheduled arbitration hearing, Nola and the Phillies announced a contract agreement taking their star hurler through 2022 with a club option for 2023. Crisis averted. Hand-wringing and keyboard-bashing for naught.

The same thing will happen now with Realmuto. The Phillies have already expressed publicly that they want to do a long-term deal with the player many regard as the top catcher in the sport. Realmuto has publicly expressed a desire to remain with the ball club for years to come. It will get done.

There are a few scenarios that could play out, with either the Arenado or Nola scenarios most likely. Either they go to an arbitration hearing, a one-year contract is awarded, and they continue to negotiate until reaching a new longer deal as with Arenado. Or they hash out a last-minute contract ala Nola.

The other scenario is that it doesn’t take that long. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has certainly been in communication with Realmuto’s representatives at BBI Sports Group. I would be willing to bet that a great deal of groundwork has already been laid on a long-term deal.

Scott Lauber at the Philadelphia Inquirer broke down the contract possibilities well in his piece today on the subject:

Realmuto is older than Joe Mauer and Buster Posey when they signed $184 million and $167 million extensions, respectively. And they were also former MVPs. But he compares favorably to St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who signed a five-year, $75 million extension at age 29 before the 2012 season. Allowing for eight years of inflation, Realmuto seems likely to want something in the neighborhood of five years and $100 million.

A five-year contract would take Realmuto through his age 33 season. Molina was an All-Star caliber catcher through age 35. Posey stayed at that level into his age 31 season,  Mauer into his age 30 campaign, before both switched largely to first base (as well as DH in Mauer’s case.)

The Phillies previously received solid, starting-caliber contributions from Carlos Ruiz through his age 35 season, though the last really strong result for “Chooch” came at age 33 in 2012.

For the Phillies to make a bet on Realmuto, who keeps himself in excellent physical condition and who has appeared in at least 125 games in each of his five full big-league seasons, through age 33 in 2024 does not seem like a very risky proposition.

That 2024 roster has $49 million total salary committed at this point, owed to Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler. Look for Realmuto to become the third with a $20+ million deal that year in what would be the final guaranteed season of a long-term contract which he will reach with the club in the coming weeks.

 

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Phillies pitching X factors or non-factors?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies will be able to count on the top two pitchers in their starting rotation to produce results at levels competitive with any in the game.

As the month of May draws to a close and June begins in the coming season, Aaron Nola will turn 27 and Zack Wheeler will turn 30 years of age within a week of one another. The two right-handers are legitimate All-Star caliber talents. So we’ll call them givens in the rotation.

Now, let’s also assume that veteran Jake Arrieta, who turns 34 early in spring training and will be looking to establish his continuing value in what will be the final guaranteed season on his contract produces at a legitimate mid-rotation level. If Arrieta can stay healthy that should be considered a reasonable outcome.

And let’s finally assume that Zach Eflin, who will turn 26 as the regular season gets underway in early April, is ready to emerge as another legitimate mid-rotation option. Four of his final seven starts in 2019 were Quality Start outings, and Eflin went five innings in two of the other three. In those seven starts he registered a 2.83 ERA and .239 Batting Average Against, allowing 37 hits over 41.1 innings. So again, it is a reasonable outcome to expect.

All of that falling perfectly into place would give the Phillies four starting pitchers who would keep them competitive in the majority of their games. Given an average of roughly 33 starts for each of those pitchers over a full, healthy, effective season, that would leave at least another 30 games to be started by other pitchers.

In 2019, not counting ‘bullpen games’, the Phillies gave 36 starts to a group of pitchers who were not members of their rotation when the season began: Drew Smyly (12), Jason Vargas (11), Jerad Eickhoff (10), Cole Irvin (3).

As we approach the start of spring training, general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies brain trust appear ready to pass on the remaining arms available in free agency and go with what the team has right now at the back of the rotation.

So, what are the possibilities, and what are the probabilities? What can the Phillies reasonably expect to get from any of the current fifth-starter pitching options? I rank them here in order of most likely to produce real value to least likely.

    • Spencer Howard: I released my most recent Phillies top 20 prospects just prior to Christmas, and Howard ranked at #2 on the list. The 23-year-old has just a half-dozen starts at Double-A and is most likely to begin the season back at Reading or with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. I wouldn’t expect him to be ready, or at least for the Phillies to feel he is ready, until at least mid-late May, more likely in June or even in the season’s second half. But he is the most talented arm here, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Howard give the Phillies a dozen or so starts this coming season.
    • Vince Velasquez: Vinnie made 23 starts in 2019 and has made 92 over his four seasons with the Phillies. That experience and his natural talent make him the odds-on favorite to land a rotation spot out of spring training. Now, can he keep it? Over the last three seasons he has cumulative 4.93 ERA, 4.64 FIP, and 1.393 WHIP marks over 336 innings pitched. If those numbers don’t improve early on, the club can no longer wait to move on from Velasquez, who turns 28 in early June, as a starting pitcher.
    • Nick Pivetta: The righty will turn 27 on Valentine’s Day and opened last season filling the fifth starter role. After 13 disastrous starts in which he allowed 78 hits including 16 home runs over 69 innings with a 5.74 ERA and .307 BAbip mark, Pivetta was relegated to the bullpen, never to return to the rotation. His results were no better in relief, as he allowed 25 hits over 24.2 IP across 17 games with a 4.38 ERA and .333 BAbip. There is perhaps no pitcher with more to prove entering the spring, and no pitcher with as wide-ranging a possible outcome. Rotation? Bullpen? Riding buses back in the minor leagues?
    • Cole Irvin: The southpaw turns 26 at the end of January and will still technically be a rookie in 2020 since he pitched in just 41.2 innings with the Phillies last year. In those innings he failed to impress, allowing 45 hits across 16 appearances. He was given three starts in May. The first two were promising. But after he was blown up at Wrigley Field in late May, Irvin was relegated to the bullpen and never given another opportunity in the rotation. In the minors he was used almost exclusively as a starter, going 34-15 with a 3.07 ERA over four seasons. The Phillies infamously have been unable to develop a left-handed starter. It would not be a major upset to see Irvin beat out Velasquez and Pivetta in spring training and earn a role in the rotation to begin the season.
    • Enyel De Los Santos: Despite the fact that he has made appearances with the Phillies in each of the past two seasons, De Los Santos also maintains his official MLB rookie eligibility into 2020 and ranked #8 on my Phillies top 20 prospects list in December. The Phillies have used him in a dozen scattered games including giving him three starting opportunities. The righty turned 25 on Christmas Day and has produced solid results over five minor league seasons. He could become an effective reliever, but also could end up trade bait and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him have a few solid seasons at the back of the rotation for some team in the future.
    • Adonis Medina: Considered for a few years as one of the Phillies’ top pitching prospects, Medina’s star has faded considerably over the last year or so. He still ranked #5 on my list of the club’s top prospects in December, but if I used such symbols it would have been with a downward arrow next to his name. Medina’s ERA has risen in each of the last three years, last season reaching an unacceptable 4.94 mark over 22 games (21 starts.) Also, his strikeouts have plummeted each of the last two seasons while his walk rate is rising. All of the trends are negative at this point. He turned just 24-years-old a month ago, so has time to turn it around. He and Howard will likely be the 1-2 combo at Lehigh Valley at some point in 2020, racing to see who gets the call to Philly first. Right now, odds are that won’t be Medina.
    • Ranger Suarez: A real darkhorse in this race. But as a left-hander with starting experience, Suarez has to be mentioned. Like De Los Santos, he also has made appearances with the Phillies in each of the last two seasons. Unlike De Los Santos, he no longer has rookie eligibility. Suarez pitched in 37 games with the big club in 2019, all out of the bullpen. That was after three of his four appearances in 2018 had been starts. All seven of his Triple-A appearances last year were as a starter, however. Suarez is just 24 years of age. He won’t turn 25 until late August. While he could make the big club out of spring training, the most likely scenario is that he opens the 2020 season back with Lehigh Valley as a starter. But at some point during the season, expect to see him back up to bolster the Phillies bullpen. Any opportunity in the big-league rotation is likely to be short-lived and on an emergency basis, based strictly on the timing of such a Phillies start coinciding with his turn in the Triple-A rotation.

Of course, there is always the wildcard possibility. No, I’m not talking about the playoff berth. I mean the wildcard that another pitcher could be added. Smyly remains available, and at the right price it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Phillies try to bring him back on a one-year deal.

Also, if the Phillies stand pat with what they have and still manage to contend, the month of July will almost certainly be filled with rumors of trades for some veteran pitchers who are available at that point.

Can any of these organizational pitchers emerge to become a true X factor in the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation this year? Or will they instead either flip to the bullpen, or in a worse-case scenario for some, become complete non-factors in the 2020 season?

 

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Philadelphia Phillies December 2019 mailbag

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No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

My Philadelphia Phillies Christmas wish 2019

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I think the Phanatic and most Phillies fans would agree with my one Christmas wish

 

With a number of happenings and gatherings over the next few days, barring some major breaking news this will be my final piece before Christmas.

There is really only one serious wish that I have for this year where there Philadelphia Phillies are concerned. If I were to actually whisper in Santa’s ear or write a letter to the North Pole, it would be the lone gift that I would ask for relating to baseball.

My one 2019 Christmas wish is for a winning Philadelphia Phillies ball club in the 2020 season.

By “winning”, I don’t mean 82-80. I mean a team that wins 90+ games and finally reaches October postseason baseball for the first time since 2011.

I really don’t care how they get there. I don’t need any more specific free agents signed or trades made. I am not looking for some final piece to any roster puzzle.

The Phillies have enough talented players right now to make it happen. They have legitimate stars at or near the top of the game at their positions in Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. There are veterans with contender pedigrees such as Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius. And there are at least two top-notch starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.

So many others either underperformed or were injured last year. I recently wrote about five such players who are being counted on and whose improvement would be keys in 2020: Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, and Jake Arrieta.

New skipper Joe Girardi has already won a World Series, three division crowns, and been named the National League Manager of the Year for guiding an NL East ball club in 11 seasons as a manager in the big-leagues. Girardi justifiably elicits far more confidence than Gabe Kapler ever did without having run even a single Phillies game.

There are many reasons to believe that my Christmas wish will come true. And, of course, so much could go wrong over the next 10 months. There are certainly no guarantees in professional sports.

Sure, I would like another proven, veteran, left-handed starting pitcher for the Phillies rotation. Yes, I would like another impact-caliber bat for the bench mix. Absolutely, another big arm, perhaps one with some closer credentials, would be nice for the bullpen.

But whatever the specifics are that help the club to arrive there, my one wish at Christmas 2019 for the Philadelphia Phillies is that truly exciting, winning, playoff season.

While this is my final scheduled writing piece, keep following @philliesbell on social media at Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where I will continue to post as regularly as time allows this week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all Phillies fans!

 

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