If you haven’t heard by now, baseball is back (pandemic permitting). Opening Day is currently set for July 23rd/24th and will kick off 60-games in 66 days in what promises to be a chaotic push for October.
While an expanded postseason obviously would’ve helped the Phillies, anything can happen in 60 games. Vegas has set their win-total at 31.5, and while I think they’ll go over on that, the difficulty of their schedule really limits their potential more than usual. With concerns over Covid ruling the day, the regular season schedule is limited by geography (40 games vs the NL East, 20 games vs the AL East).
While most fans understand the depth of the NL East—Braves & Nats are contenders, Mets are formidable, Marlins have plus-young talent—the AL East is one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Twelve inter-league matchups with the Yankees (103 wins last year), Rays (96 wins last year), and Red Sox (84 wins) isn’t ideal, though I’ll admit the AL West is arguably more scary. The Phils really need to take care of Baltimore, Toronto, and Miami (the last two of which will feature promising young talent) if they want any hope of making a run at the playoffs.
With that said, the additions of Girardi, Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius; the return of Andrew McCutchen; the presence of Bruce in the DH; and the injection of our top prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm all combine to make this 2020 roster far more exciting and than last year’s. Here’s my projection for the Opening Day *30-man roster. (*shrinks back to 26 by the end of August)
This four is locked-in assuming they all opt-in to the shortened season. Zack Wheeler and his wife, Dominique, are expecting a baby sometime in the next month, and there’s speculation that he’ll chose to remain with his family instead of joining the club. This would be a huge loss for a team that was counting on Wheeler to be the second horse behind Nola, but I can’t blame him for wanting to be with his wife and newborn through this moment in time.
Two days ago I wrote about how Howard could be somewhat hurt by the shortened-season, and there are arguments for each side. On one hand he wasn’t afforded the low-stress reps in the minors that the team was counting on to get him ready for a second half debut; on the other hand this was a great way to artificially manage his workload. With the fifth starter slated for 12 starts they should have no problem putting Howard in this spot if he’s deemed ready. If not, the coaching staff spoke highly of Ranger Suarez back in the initial Spring Training, and he would give Girardi the left-handed starter he currently lacks. In which case we would see Howard out of the pen as a high-leverage arm late in games.
We could see Francisco Liriano in here, but Morgan, Alvarez, and Suarez all probably have a leg up on him and I doubt they’ll keep four lefties in the pen. I wouldn’t rule out one of the younger arms also starting in the pen—Brogdon, De Los Santos, Rosso, etc…—but I think they’d prefer to start a short season with veterans/arms with real experience.
These are the 10 names that should make up most lineups. Bruce figures to be the everyday DH (how many teams get to put a bat like this in the middle of the order?) and Bohm will likely get the nod every time Segura, Kingery, Didi, Bruce or even Hoskins & Haseley need a day off—i.e: he’s gonna play a lot.
Opinions on the DH in the NL aside, there’s no doubt that the Phillies benefit from this change more than most teams. That combined with the versatility of Kingery really gives Girardi a ton of flexibility with his everyday lineups. (Note: Of course, everyone benefits from the DH to some degree, but it’s not hard to see how this opens things up for the Phils more than other clubs)
Quinn should be a huge asset off the bench as a pinch-runner in extra innings—the league has decided to implement the rule that will start the 10th inning (and any subsequent innings) with a runner on second base (only during the regular season) in an attempt to avoid drawn out ballgames and prevent injury. Nick Williams is a fine bench bat from the left side, and while I think Walker/Forsythe is redundant, the team doesn’t have a ton of promising bats in the minors ready to make an impact after Bohm—roll with veterans in this shortened season.
Obviously there’s a lot to shake out in the coming days and weeks. Some players will opt-out of the season altogether, some will see their status clouded by positive tests for coronavirus, and others will get hurt. On top of that the team is allowed to carry up to 30 extra players on a quasi-practice squad who will be ready for call-up at any moment, so sweating over whom is and isn’t on the initial 30-man roster is almost as pointless as ever.