Opening Day is upon us and the Phillies have enjoyed the most preseason hype they’ve had since 2012. It’s crunch time now though. You better believe that all the good vibes surrounding the Phillies will disappear quickly if the team doesn’t produce. Never underestimate the depths that WIP callers will reach after one loss. I mean, people were calling for Gabe Kapler’s head after game one last year and he ended up getting booed in his home debut.
Needless to say, there is certainly pressure on the Phillies headed into 2019. With that said, I have confidence that this team will make the playoffs. The amount of offensive firepower Klentak and company have brought in is unheard of. Defense is another area where the team has improved drastically. In short, it already looks remarkably better than their league worst numbers a season ago. The only area that is somewhat questionable is starting pitching, but that can always be addressed at the deadline.
So I think it goes without saying that I’m excited for this season. Here are seven predictions for the Phillies in 2019
Pivetta Takes The Next Step, Velasquez Moves To The Bullpen By Late May
I’ll start with a fairly common one. Nick Pivetta is expected by many to have a breakout campaign this season. On the surface his 2018 numbers look rather pedestrian, but there is plenty to like about some of the deeper stats.
Pivetta finished last season with an ERA of 4.99 over 164 innings and struggled with his command at times. He had troubles with the long ball – allowing 24 home runs – and had games where he just didn’t have it. However, there were stretches where he was brilliant. April and June were his best months while his numbers declined over the summer.
The big takeaway from Pivetta’s 2018, however, was the strike out rate. He finished with a K/9 of 10.3, putting him in the top 15 for the league. Some of the names with similar K/9 rates included Patrick Corbin, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, German Marquez, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Jacob Degrom. Only Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander had strikeout rates over 11 per nine. FIP was also much kinder to Pivetta, who finished with a solid mark of 3.80. With an improved defense look for Pivetta’s ERA to decline.
Essentially, Pivetta is missing bats and knocking at the door. If he can work out his command issues he will be a front end starter.
As for Vinnie V, it has long been apparent that he is not an option in the rotation going forward. Velasquez has his flashes of brilliance but hardly ever gets out of the sixth inning. He’s great the first time through the lineup but then falls off late game. I think that Velasquez would make an excellent reliever and that a healthy Eickhoff is a better option. By late May, this will likely be the case.
Andrew McCutchen Will Hit 25 Home Runs
Andrew McCutchen has plenty of reasons to be chasing success at Citizens Bank Park. If McCutchen can string together 2-3 more solid seasons, then a couple more decent ones, he will find himself in the Hall of Fame. Cutch of course was one of the game’s best players during his time with Pittsburgh and was the 2013 NL MVP.
Last year, however, was arguably his worst season. It was his first away from Pittsburgh and he found himself in a hitter’s nightmare of a park. In San Francisco, Cutch hit a still respectable .255/.357/.415 and hit 15 bombs. Look deeper and you’ll find that McCutchen was among the league leaders in warning track fly-outs and did much better in limited action with the Yankees. Overall, he finished with a very solid WRC+ of 120.
The numbers suggest that Citizens Bank Park will be kind to Andrew McCutchen and that 25 home-runs is certainly possible. Think Raul Ibanez with more speed when you envision what Cutch should be doing.
Scott Kingery Will Thrive In A Lesser Role
Scott Kingery’s rookie campaign was disappointing following years of build-up. As if being a rookie in the big leagues wasn’t enough pressure, Kingery was getting hit with Chase Utley comparisons due to his college baseball background. I mean, why do that to the guy?
The pressure was increased dramatically when Kingery signed an extension that will pay him more in the short-term but also buys out some of his free agency. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, he mostly played out of position and was expected to produce instantly. The 2017 Phillies did not have many bats – especially in May – and Kingery was expected to do more than he was ready for.
In 2019, Kingery will find himself in more of a super-utility role and will have much less pressure on him. I doubt many games are going to be coming down to the bat of Scott Kingery and he also won’t be playing everyday. He’ll be able to use his speed and versatility effectively in this role. Ultimately, I think that Kingery will thrive in this role and that he will be similar to peak Brock Holt.
Odubel Will Bounce Back
Like Kingery, Odubel Herrera will benefit from having far less pressure on him this season. As I talked about yesterday, Odubel has been essentially written off and is not expected to be shouldering the load anymore. In past seasons he was arguably the best all around hitter on the team, now he’s an afterthought.
People forget that Odubel is a consistent .280/.330 guy. When he was doing that in lineups with the ghost of Ryan Howard hitting clean-up, he wasn’t going to be scoring many runs. With all the offensive firepower the team has brought in, Odubel should be setting the table regularly and scoring runs. El Torito will silence the doubters.
Nick Williams Will Thrive As A Pinch Hitter
Pinch hitting is a lost art in baseball. Ten years ago, every team seemed to have a guy who thrived in that role. In case of emergency, the Phillies would use the stairs.
Nowadays, teams seem to value pinch hitting less. It makes sense, seeing as how the league is talking about a universal DH. In the meantime though, pinch hitting is still a thing in the NL and valuable pinch hitting isn’t something that teams seem to look for.
Nick Williams might have something to say about that. Last year, Nicky Dubs mashed as a pinch hitter before becoming a regular in place of Aaron Altherr. He ended the season going 10 for 28 in pinch hit attempts with an impressive three home-runs. He also went 2 for 3 in this situation during his rookie campaign.
Williams finds himself on the bench at the start of the season and like Kingery and Odubel, he’ll be hungry. Of course Williams will be pinch hitting in some intense situations, as there is far more pressure on the club than last year, but I think he’ll be fine. Nick Williams has the chance to revive the art of pinch hitting and can easily step into either of the corner outfield slots if needed.
Rhys Hoskins Will Get His First All Star Nod
Since coming up to the show, Rhys has been the guy in Philly. He exploded on to the scene in 2017, becoming the fastest player to 11 home-runs in MLB history. Despite having to make some adjustments in his second season, Hoskins is without doubt one of the premier young power threats in the league.
Like the rest of the holdovers, Hoskins will benefit immensely from having to bat behind Bryce Harper. You can’t pitch around Hoskins when you have to worry about Harper, Segura, Realmuto and McCutchen. His OBP may suffer, but Hoskins is going to mash this year. Personally, I think that Hoskins will be eager to show that he’s still the hometown guy and will ultimately earn his first career All Star selection
The Team Ends The Season In The First Wild Card Slot
Lots of people, both national and local, are picking the Phillies to win the division. It is totally possible and I think that they find themselves as far and away the best team in the division on paper. That said, I believe that the NL East will be a dog fight this season and that the Phillies will have an adjustment period.
We’ve seen it many times before in baseball and other sports. When clubs massively upgrade via free agency or trade, there is an adjustment period. I’m not saying it’s 100% going to happen, but I think this team will run into some struggles at some point. The ridiculous takes will be flowing, the WIP callers will be riled up and overreactions will be aplenty. In the end though, I firmly believe that this team will be a wild card team.
And honestly? That’s really not bad. This team’s window is just opening while the Mets have a much more limited one. The Nats are perpetually in the race to lose in the first round and they’ll be there again. Just because Harper is gone doesn’t mean that Rizzo hasn’t retooled. Juan Soto is being hailed as an MVP candidate, Trea Turner still has a-lot to give and the rotation is arguably the league’s best.
Of course we all want the division, but if it comes down to a Wild Card Game at CBP, I’m here for it. I’m just hype for some baseball either way.