At long last, BASEBALL IS BACK! After one of the strangest off-seasons, to say the least, Major League Baseball kicks off the 2019 Season with a full slate of games today. Obviously, we Philadelphians have a lot to be excited about and it’s not just Bryce Harper. Greg and I talked about the Phils in the NL East pod, I debated gambling on the over/under way before Harper got here, but it’s time for a good old fashioned blog preview. Here are some of the biggest storylines to keep an eye on this season.
New and Improved Offense (and Defense)
- Returning Faces: Three years ago, Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, and Big Maik Franco were your 1-2-3 hitters on Opening Day and now they round out the lineup before the pitcher’s spot! Each of them may have had their various struggles throughout 2018 but their move to the bottom half of Gabe Kapler’s lineup card comes from huge improvements made over the off season. It’ll be very interesting (and hopefully a lot of fun) to watch how these three adjust to this new role in the order. Less pressure could result in some higher production numbers, especially the way the 1 through 5 hitters can hit the baseball. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Herrera or Hernandez make their way into the leadoff or 2-spot. Herrera will need to show off the hustle but Hernandez could move up quickly if he starts off hot and Cutch struggles a bit. Perhaps the biggest storyline to watch of the returning players is how Rhys Hoskins will perform with another power bat in the lineup. Being sandwiched between Harper and Realmuto bodes very well for Hoskins who should continue to build what we’ve been seeing over the last year and a half.
- New Faces: Bringing the left-handed Bryce Harper to Citizens Bank Park will do a lot for the Phillies but you didn’t need me to tell you that. What makes the lineup so dangerous are the other additions the Phils brought in. McCutchen will be a great veteran presence in the outfield and he has impressed enough to earn the leadoff spot for Opening Day. I think when the lineup settles in for the season, Jean Segura may ultimately take the leadoff spot, but I’m liking Segura at 2 right now. Segura’s speed makes for a dangerous baserunner with Harper hitting behind him. I mentioned how Hoskins adds protection for Harper but JT Realmuto adds an additional layer of protection beyond what Hoskins brings. The gamble of walking Harper to get to the next guy (which has been previously used very frequently on Harper) now has oh-so-much more risk for the same reward.
- Defense! (*clap* *clap*) Defense! The most under-the-radar story the new guys bring to the table is how big of a defensive upgrade they each are! McCutchen (a trained outfielder) takes over left field from Hoskins (who moves back to his normal first base), Segura (a trained shortstop) takes over from Scott Kingery (a second baseman), and the biggest upgrade is Realmuto who is probably one of, if not, the best catchers in baseball. I loved Jorge Alfaro and still enjoy Andrew Knapp but Realmuto isn’t going to have the blocking issues we saw last year. He can still gun runners down at second and not throw it five yards wide every third throw. The pitcher will be picked up by their defense this season and that’s something you should be very excited about.
- A quick note on the bench: Scott Kingery, Andrew Knapp, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr are all familiar names who should add an interesting wrinkle to the lineup. Kingery and Williams are both speed demons and if the Phils are facing a right-handed pitcher, Williams could be used in a spot start.
A Bolstered Bullpen, Same Starters
- Same Starters: Starting pitching was right on the top of my wish list over the off season and it’s the only aspect of the club the Phillies didn’t address. Aaron Nola should continue to build his reputation as a STUD, Jake Arrieta should be healthy and not pitching on an injured knee, and the back-half of Pivetta, Velasquez, and Eflin should have another year of seasoning to perform decently well enough. I’m excited to see what Pivetta and Eflin bring to the table but Velasquez remaining a starter is something I, among other fans, have hoped would change sooner than later. His heater fits better in the bullpen. Eickhoff is still working through injury so I get you want to go with the guy but if Eickhoff is healthy enough to join the team, it may be worth moving Velasquez into a 6th/7th inning role. Just remember, the ’08 Phillies had Jamie Moyer, Brett Meyers, Kyle Kendrick, and Adam Eaton as the starters behind Cole Hamels on Opening Day.
- Bullpen Boost: David Robertson brings a much needed anchor to the back-half of the bullpen. Gabe the Babe can now look at a trio of relievers for the final two innings and feel confident the door will be slammed shut. Year two Seranthony Dominguez should see more consistency, hopefully on a similar clip as his first few weeks in the Bigs and having Pat Neshek start the season healthy is huge. The rest of the bullpen will be a bit of a question mark, but the trio of Dominguez, Neshek, and Robertson makes me pretty confident heading into the year.
Did I Take the Wins Over?
I’m a degenerate, did you really think I wouldn’t? Although my sportsbook didn’t open win over/unders until after the Phils signed Harper so my line is 89.5 wins. As I said on the pod, I feel pretty confident this team can hit 90 wins and win the NL East although I do think mid-90s will be tough considering the division is so much better. We’ll have to see. I’m feeling more-and-more confident about my 2020 World Series projection, though.
What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments and be sure to keep following along with us throughout the 2019 season!Follow @geordo9