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Is 2022 the year that Joe Girardi gets the Phillies back to the playoffs?

Blown saves were the hallmark of the 2021 Phillies, but their bullpen additions so far leave much to be desired. 

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies had a chance to be a playoff team last season, but could not harness an MVP season from Bryce Harper into a playoff berth. The Phillies were in first place on August 14th, but their bullpen and offense simply were not good enough to get them to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

The main story for last year’s Phillies team is that the bullpen blowing 34 saves cost them a playoff opportunity. In six games, Philly had the lead late in games and blow two saves in the same game. On May 8th against the Braves, they actually blew three saves, giving up a 3-1 ninth-inning lead, a 4-3 10th inning lead, AND a 7-4 11th inning lead. Wow.

The Phils signed Corey Knebel in December pre-lockout and since the lockout, they have brought in Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia. Knebel is a solid pickup who is trying to reset his value after an injury-shortened 25 ⅔ innings in 2021. He was quite effective in those innings, posting 30 strikeouts and a 169 ERA+, but much like the rest of the Phillies bullpen, he gave up more walks than one likes to see out of any elite reliever.

While Knebel is an upgrade, Hand gave up 26 walks and nine home runs in just 64 innings (and a walk or homer every other appearance. Familia has posted a negative fWAR in his last three seasons and is basically coming off divisional rival’s junk pile.

Philly has the same basic rotation coming back in 2022. The questions are whether or not Zack Wheeler will be as good in 2022 as he was in 2021. Likewise, will Alex Bohm and Aaron Nola be as bad in 2022 as they were last year?

Wheeler led the National League in innings (213 ⅓) and strikeouts (247) and carried over a strong performance from the COVID shortened 2020. He’s emerged as a true ‘ace’, who will anchor a rotation with a number of questions marks behind him

Aaron Nola posted his worst year since 2016 by ERA+, but his strikeouts per nine and walks per nine were both better than his career average. Zach Eflin was mediocre, and exactly league average (with a 100 ERA+). For a number three starter with a questionable number two in front of him, it’s a lot of downside.

The Phillies offense is light in some of the modern power positions, though it is still anchored by annual MVP candidate Bryce Harper. Harper is the brightest spot in a boom-or-bust lineup that also benefits from JT Realmuto. Realmuto is an asset to the offense in that he can log innings behind the plate as well as at first base, but when he’s behind the dish, there’s not much of a power threat at first base which is still a need.

On the other side of the infield, the one big question is whether or not Alec Bohm will take a step forward after a putrid sophomore performance. In his first full season, he posted a -1.4 bWAR. He hit only seven home runs and posted an anemic .247/.305/.342 slash line.

The Phillies still don’t have a good option in center field and will be again sending out Odubel Herrera. Their acquisition of Kyle Schwarber brings a boom-of-bust approach to either a corner outfield slot or the designated hitter position. Schwarber had a solid 2021 split between the Nationals and Red Sox, but it’s hard to see a career .237 hitter as a strong DH option.

Expectations

PECOTA projects the Phillies at a mediocre 82-80 which seems fair considering the roster is not much improved over last year despite the additions. While the Phillies have added pieces both before and after the lockout, they’re not the pieces that will elevate this club to a 90-win team to compete in the NL East.

In a division with the Braves and Mets, Philly is a clear third-place favorite. They beat up on the lowly Nationals last year (13-6 record) but were under .500 against the Marlins (9-10).

Win Total Prediction: 83-79

It’s unlikely that the 2022 squad again sets a record for blown saves, so figure that adds a couple more notches to the win total. It still does not look like enough to get them into an expanded playoff format.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano