Last year’s Phillies were a stark reminder that winning the offseason doesn’t necessarily translate to wins in the regular season. The additions of Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen should have been more than enough to bring an 80-win team into contention, but just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Realmuto, Segura, and Harper performed as advertised, and so did McCutchen until he tore his ACL. McCutchen was but one victim in a swath of injuries cut through the clubhouse. Jake Arrieta suffered bone spurs in his throwing arm, and he stubbornly played through it which just exacerbated the problem. His performance tanked in the handful of games he played before going on the IL for good. The entire bullpen turned over as David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Seranthony Domínguez, Adam Morgan, Victor Arano, and Edubray Ramos all missed significant time.
It’s tempting to assume that with a normal amount of luck, the Phillies should contend. Even if everyone stays healthy, success isn’t guaranteed.
For one, the Phillies play in perhaps the toughest division in baseball. FanGraphs projects a 7-win range between the Mets and Nationals tied in first and the Phillies who would finish fourth. The range is tighter in the NL Central, but the projected fourth-place Cardinals don’t have as steep a hill to climb as the Phillies. The FanGraphs projections are kinder to the Phillies as well. PECOTA’s average projection for the Phillies is 76.7 wins.
If the Phillies are at full strength, they still aren’t very strong. That depleted bullpen from 2019 wasn’t exactly an elite force with a three-headed monster at the top and neither is the 2020 squad. That’s not to say they’re terrible either. Philadelphia’s relief corps is merely competent. Héctor Neris is a quality arm capable of a 30 percent strikeout rate at the very least. Seranthony Domínguez has shown flashes of brilliance. Even if David Robertson weren’t going to miss the entire season, this group wouldn’t be enough to carry the load.
The remainder of the roster is best described as top-heavy. The Opening Day starting nine is a strong group. Rhys Hoskins, Realmuto, Harper, Segura, and McCutchen when he returns are all great starts to an offense. Didi Gregorius is a welcome addition at shortstop. Though he’s coming off a down year, he was worth 4.7 fWAR the year before. Scott Kingery appeared to put things together in his sophomore season. He didn’t finish strong, but he also experienced blurry vision at the end of the year. He’ll wear a corrective contact lens in his right eye to combat that issue.
Beyond that, there’s little to get excited about. If Jay Bruce gets healthy, he is still entering his age 33 season, and he hasn’t hit since 2017. Neither Adam Haseley nor Roman Quinn figure to be much better than replacement level in center. Kyle Garlick, who was acquired from the Dodgers, has raked at every level of the minors, but there’s a lot of swing and miss in his game. The prognostications for non-roster invitees Josh Harrison, Logan Forsythe, and Neil Walker aren’t any rosier, and there’s a good chance at least one of them breaks camp with the big-league club by default.
If any of the Phillies’ everyday starters get hurt or slump, the team will be lucky to get any sort of production from whoever takes their spot.
It’s the same story in the starting rotation. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are a great start to any staff, and they could certainly do worse than Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez for the final three spots. Still, they could do better. Bone spurs or no, Arrieta’s best days are behind him. His strikeout rate has fallen year over year since winning the Cy Young in 2015. Anything better than league average innings from Eflin or Velasquez would be a major victory.
If everything breaks right, the Phillies could make a run at the Wild Card or even the division title. For that to happen, every one of their starters needs to stay healthy and at least match their projections while a couple bench pieces have big years. It’s not impossible, but it’s likely that someone is going to get hurt or slump or just hit a little worse than expected. Already, McCutchen is going to miss the start of the year and Domínguez, Hunter, and Haseley aren’t guaranteed for Opening Day.
Not all is lost yet, but it should be clear how a handful of injuries could derail their season. The Phillies are a talented but shallow team. There will be times where Philadelphia looks unbeatable this year, but there will be just as many where they look completely ordinary.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.