With so much doom and gloom surrounding America’s pastime as of late, I believe it is time to focus on something more uplifting for a change. While the thought of a roughly 50-game, 2020 MLB season depresses hardcore fans who are accustomed to a season three times as long, the brevity of such a schedule could present a unique opportunity for the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies.
Let’s get into the opposite of negadelphia in what will be the most optimistic Phillies analysis you’ve ever read.
First and foremost, health is the main concern of all Americans during this time due to
the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While the impact of the virus is justifiably on everyone’s mind, the three month delay that MLB has experienced thus far has allowed injured players extra time to rehab injuries that would otherwise have delayed their 2020 debut.
Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani has made terrific progress in his comeback from 2018 Tommy John surgery, and looks on track to return to the mound if not immediately, then shortly after the start of a hypothetical 2020 campaign. In regards to our beloved Phillies, the unexpected layoff has provided ample time for three key players to heal from injuries that would otherwise have impacted their 2020 productivity.
The first name that will benefit from the added layoff is a sorely missed bullpen piece. Victor Arano’s season of course ended last May due to elbow surgery. Still not fully healed, Arano appeared on track to begin 2020 on the shelf. However, with three extra months of recovery time, the hard-throwing right-hander should be able to take to the field whenever the season begins, slotting into high-leverage situations.
In addition to Arano, the Phillies beleaguered bullpen looked set to begin this season without the services of Tommy Hunter, as the 33-year-old underwent flexor tendon surgery last July. With little positive or negative news coming out in recent weeks surrounding Hunter’s status, it is merely a guess on my part to assume he would be ready for the beginning of 2020. Either way, three extra months of recovery time will prove to be invaluable to a bullpen that was shaky at best last season. Whether he’s healthy or not right away is irrelevant. With a shortened season, any positive contribution from Hunter will be amplified.
Last but not least, Andrew McCutchen was an on-base machine at the top of the order last season before a June ACL tear ruined his age-32 renaissance. The man known as “Cutch” was expected to spend the first few weeks of 2020 on the Injured List, as his
rehab progress was taking longer than expected. While mid-season addition Jay Bruce filled in admirably last season, McCutchen’s career .378 on base percentage makes him an ideal table-setter for a loaded lineup that under-performed last year.
Speaking of under-performing last year, perhaps the most underwhelming hitter for the
Phillies was second baseman Cesar Hernandez. A veteran of seven big league campaigns,
Hernandez did yeoman’s work while the Phils toiled in the NL East basement for his entire
career. Unfortunately, last year proved to be a marked disappointment for the 30-year-old Venezuelan, as his lackluster .279/.333/.408 slash line led to an equally unimpressive 91 OPS+.His move to the Cleveland Indians over the winter opened the door for Matt Klentak to sign defensive wizard Didi Gregorius to play shortstop, and slide the incumbent Jean Segura over to second base. While both Gregorius and Segura struggled in 2019 as well, both men have established major league track records, and can reasonably be expected to bounce back after down years.
Gregorious inked a one year deal with the idea of recuperating some value in a hitter’s ballpark with a talented lineup, so the bounce-back potential (and motivation) is high. As for Segura, the veteran recently made several lifestyle changes that he hopes will pay dividends when play resumes. John Clark stated in a tweet that Segura had cut out whiskey and wine from his diet in an effort to improve physically. A motivated and healthy Segura could go a long way in 2020, seeing as how he was scapegoated quite often last season. At the very least, a significant defensive upgrade in the middle infield can be counted on.
Shifting gears to the pitching staff, not much went right for the Phillies in 2019. Aaron Nola took a step backwards from his All-Star form, Vince Velasquez couldn’t find his
footing in the rotation or the bullpen, setup man Seranthony Dominguez battled elbow injuries and Nick Pivetta, who many predicted to have a breakout 2019, pitched so poorly that he merited an extended stay in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Looking ahead to 2020, the Phillies made one front-line addition in the form of former
Met Zack Wheeler, who signed a five year, $118 million deal. The Phillies are hoping for health and consistency from last year’s rotation to fall in place behind what should be a big upgrade in Wheeler.
One of the lottery tickets in this equation would be a productive campaign from Jake Arrieta, who will be looking to recoup some value following what has largely been a disappointing tenure. Though his velocity is way down, Arrieta was at least partially injured for the duration of the 2019 campaign. Expecting 2015 level production from Arrieta is foolish, but a very promising ground ball rate could provide a glimpse of the pitcher Arrieta could be at this stage in his career. The other result could be that Arrieta’s career is on life support….. so time will tell.
On the downside, Seranthony Dominguez recently underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the entirety of 2020. With that said, there is cause for optimism with this
year’s pitching staff, as the return to health for Arano and Hunter adds two capable weapons to a bullpen that struggled to hold onto leads in 2019. Additionally, Pivetta’s well-documented struggles in the rotation should lead to a move to the ‘pen, where his strikeout stuff could conceivably play well in one-inning stints. A return to form for Nola,as well as an increased ground-ball tendency from the homer-prone Zach Eflin could give the Phillies a solid, albeit unspectacular starting staff. A healthy relief corps headlined by Héctor Neris could protect most of the leads their potent offense gives them.
Is this all unbridled optimism? For sure, as the Phillies are all but certain to run into their
fair share of problems if a 2020 season does occur. These are the Phillies after all. However, with a little luck and the guidance of new manager Joe Girardi, it’s not inconceivable that the Phillies could grab an early lead in a shortened season and refuse to relinquish it.
2020 will be remembered as a seminal year in the history of Major League Baseball for better or worse, so let’s hope this rollercoaster of a year can be capped off with some positive Phillies news. If it takes the rest of the league burning for the Phillies to taste some post-season baseball again, so be it.