March 27, 2019
The Phillies were probably the most talked about team in all of baseball from last November on. After all the free agency drama, the high profile trades and the exceptionally high expectations, regular season baseball games are finally here to be played.
So as the 2019 season finally kicks off, here's a look at the 10 storylines we'll be watching most closely as the long marathon to the World Series begins:
We won't waste a ton of time on this one — it's bluntly obvious. The Phillies spent $330 million to lock up the 2015 MVP for 13 years and he's made it no secret that the city itself is a big reason he decided to spend more than a decade in red pinstripes.
If Harper plays more like he did in down years (like 2016 and 2018) than the MVP he's also shown he can be, it will be a long first season for the 26-year-old right fielder. A fast start would be the best thing for everyone. If he struggles early, his performance will be THE storyline until he rights the ship.
The Phillies' lineup, from top to bottom, is extremely potent. Batting in what will most likely be the cleanup spot this year, Hoskins should have a ton of RBI opportunities
In fact, sportswriters are projecting he has a pretty good chance at winning the NL's RBI crown. Back at his natural position of first base, Hoskins has the talent and support around him to be an All-Star in 2019.
A very real possibility exists that every single major piece the Phillies brought in this offseason can make the All-Star team this July. In addition to the aforementioned Harper, shortstop Jean Segura was on the AL squad last season, the second of his career. Andrew McCutchen has made five appearances, though none since 2015, and reliever David Robertson appeared in 2011. And then J.T. Realmuto, one of the best catchers in the game, is fresh off an All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger with Miami in 2018.
All five know what it takes to win and have shown they can be among baseball's best before. If things click in Citizens Bank Park, there could be a lot of Philly in Cleveland for the Mid-Summer Classic.
Aaron Nola should be money again in 2019. Baseball pundits all over are projecting that the Phils ace will either win the Cy Young Award this coming season or once again finish in the top 3 in voting like he did in 2018.
Jake Arrieta, the Phils' veteran No. 2, is expected to rebound after an injury-riddled down year in 2018. He had a great spring and should be reliable as the second punch in the starting rotation.
Then there's the embarrassment of riches. Neither Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin or Nick Pivetta has really shown much more than potential and inconsistency as each of the 24-to-26 year olds has shown flashes but no sustained brilliance in parts of the last three seasons. If this trio can find its footing and be solid, the Phillies will make the playoffs for sure. If they wind up being a hinderance, the next storyline will surely come into play.
The Phillies didn't do much to address their thin starting five, and if the are in a close race come July, don't be surprised if Matt Klentak and Co. become very, very active looking for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.
Like they did in glory year's past, bringing in such big names as Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton, adding a big-name starter is nothing new. The trend could recommence four months from now.
Among the Phillies deep pool of high profile prospects, there are two who may get their feet wet in 2019 and should be followed closely by hardcore fans.
Haseley, 2017's first-round pick and the third best prospect in the Phils' system will be in Triple-A this year after hitting .316/.403/.478 in a brief stint in Double-A Reading. The 22-year-old could be knocking on the door this year, and perhaps put some pressure on the Phillies to make room for him with Harper, McCutchen and Odubel Herrera manning the CBP outfield.
Medina, the second rated prospect in the system, is a starting pitcher and a highly-regarded one. He was more or less a deal-breaker in the J.T. Realmuto trade and many Phillies fans were pleased that he was still with the organization after the swap (Sixto Sanchez was moved instead). He has a 96+ mph fastball and two highly-rated off speed pitches. He's listed as one of the MLB's top 100 prospects, but has yet to pitch in Double-A. If he shines brightly in the higher minors, he'll get a look as a spot starter or even a call up in September.
Former Phillies greats will get proper send offs this season. Jimmy Rollins is first, on May 4. His giveaway will be a replica 2008 World Series ring. Chase Utley is next, on June 21 and fans will get an Utley bobblehead when the Phils face the Marlins that night. And Ryan Howard, who will also have his own bobblehead, will be honored on July 14.
The three ceremonies and giveaways are a reminder of what the Phillies are once again attempting to build. It will be a special moment when these three take the field once again in front of what will likely be packed houses.
We have two big things we will be watching for from Kapler in 2019. First, how will he handle his bullpen and distribute save opportunities between Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez and the rest of the bullpen — which as of right now is operating without any stated roles.
And second, will the man who came up with 134 line up combinations last year (not including pitchers) find more stability with a more stable offense this coming season?
There is absolutely no consensus as to which team will win the NL East. The Phillies have obviously added a ton of talent and were in the mix for a playoff spot late last September before a horrible stretch of games ended their hopes. The Mets are much improved, and if healthy are a team that can win 90+ games. The Braves are the defending division champs and are better after a year together — and in the Phillies mold, a year more experienced after an educational 2018. And then the Nationals, who boast one of the best pitching rotations in baseball, have seemingly not lost a step despite the departure of Harper.
The division could have four teams all in contention when the fall arrives. It may be the most competitive in all of baseball.
The Phillies didn't make all these headlines for nothing. They want to win. And in order to do so, the returning players will need to show they've learned something from an epic collapse last season, that sent them from first to fourth place in seemingly no time flat.
The veterans they brought in should be a good combat for complacency or a repeat fall from grace, but only time will tell if all the hard work, slick negotiating and good luck was for nothing — or for a team back competing for championships.
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