July 24, 2020
Believe it or not, the Phillies 2020 season finally kicks off on Friday night when they host the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park, nearly four months after it was originally scheduled to commence before the COVID-19 pandemic brought all sports across the country to a screeching halt.
Major League Baseball, which kicked off on Thursday night in the nation's capital, is the first of the four major American professional leagues to play actual games that matter (NBA preseason scrimmages have also started) and the world will be watching closely to see how playing games outside of an NBA-like bubble works out for baseball.
Aside from the lack of fans and seeing some masks on the field, the games may look like the ones you're used to watching. The season, however, will not, as it will be almost a third the length of a normal season, rosters will be expanded (until they aren't anymore), and more than half the league will make the playoffs after news came down on Thursday that the league agreed to a 16-team playoff format, not the 10-team format they've been using recently since last expanding the playoffs a couple of years back.
That last part should be good news for the Phillies, right? More teams getting in means a better chance they'll make their first postseason since 2011. Right? RIGHT?
As we'll see in today's Opening Day edition of What They're Saying, that's not necessarily the case, as they'll not only face stiff competition in their division, but with the league bunching teams together geographically, the Phillies will not only have to contend with their division rivals, but a pretty talented AL East as well.
Before getting into the meat of the post, let's take a quick look at the Phillies current World Series odds ahead of their first game of the 2020 season. First up, FanDuel, who has the Phils tied for the 10th best title odds in baseball — and the fourth best in their own division.
And then there's FOXBet, who has the Phillies with slightly better odds at +2200 and tied for ninth, but they're still fourth in the NL East.
There actually could be some serious value in betting on an underdog this season of all seasons. For starters, no one really knows how the 60-game season is going to impact the standings. There's a much greater chance that a surprise team gets hot and goes on a run, especially with the expanded playoffs. And, as we'll see, the Phillies could be one of those teams primed for a run given their offensive potential.
Let's get into it...
Let's start with some more specific predictions for the 2020 season, not so much the ones that have to do with final records or playoff appearances, but the ones dealing with individual players.
Over at WIP, Joe Giglio offered up 10 bold predictions for the Phillies 60-game season. Here are two that were especially interesting, as he sees two players heading in opposite directions this year...
3. Spencer Howard will prove to be the real deal.
Howard isn’t just a good pitching prospect; he’s a power arm with top-of-the-rotation potential. With no innings limit, we could see Howard unleashed at some point. When that day arrives, don’t be surprised if we soon realize that he’s the second-best pitcher on the entire staff. This kid is going to be must-watch television.
4. Rhys Hoskins doubts will only grow. By September, he’ll sit for some big games.
Hoskins feels like the linchpin to a deep lineup turning into one of baseball’s best. But I’m worried about his mentality in the box, new stance (which has started to devolve back into what we saw last year) and a player being miscast as something more than he is. Hoskins is a productive big league slugger, and likely will be for a long time. But he’s not proven to be a true middle-of-the-order bat on a winner, belongs at DH rather than in the field and doesn’t seem to be mentally tough enough.
By mid-September, we’ll see Hoskins sitting for big games. Alec Bohm will be at first base, Jay Bruce will be at DH and Jean Segura will be manning third. When next offseason arrives, Hoskins’ future in Philadelphia will be in serious doubt. [94wip.radio.com]
Meanwhile at NBC Sports Philadelphia, various members of their staff from writers to producers to broadcasters offered up some predictions for the 2020 season. They seem to be higher on the Phillies than most, especially Salisbury's prediction of the Phillies making the playoffs. As you'll see, he's in the minority with that prediction.
Phillies insider Jim Salisbury: Phillies take two of three from Tampa Bay on the final weekend of the season to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Spencer Howard notches a key win in the series to lock up the NL Rookie of the Year award.
Phillies writer/producer Corey Seidman: I said here Segura would hit .338 so I can't use that one again. Hmmm... you know, I think Bryce Harper is going to lead the National League in home runs with 14 to 16. Road games at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, 13 games against the lowly Marlins and Orioles, 33 games at Citizens Bank Park (does Toronto play here?).
I also think the Nationals are going to be pretty bad, like 27-33. Great starting pitching, but has anyone looked at that lineup? Blah City. [nbcsports.com]
Over at The Athletic, Matt Gelb and Meghan Montemurro had a back-and-forth conversation for their Phillies season preview. And while there are clearly a lot of questions heading into the season, especially surrounding their pitching, they, like PhillyVoice columnist Kevin Cooney, believe that hitting must lead the way for the Phillies in 2020.
And Gelb, like Seidman and many others, believes it could be a big season for Bryce Harper...
Montemurro: You don’t have to worry about the bullpen as much if your offense carries you, right? This team was built to outscore opponents. It was the blueprint for the offseason signings and roster construction heading into 2019, and it sort of worked for the first two months of last season until Andrew McCutchen tore an ACL. When I look at this version of the Phillies, I see a core similarity to last year’s .500 team: Their offense needs to show up and carry them most games. Adding the DH — likely Jay Bruce more often than not — makes this a potentially deep lineup, even with the question marks. Girardi said Thursday that Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn will get time in center field, and potentially left field occasionally, which will give the Phillies’ lineup a different look based on matchups.
In a 60-game sprint, you need stars like Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to step up and consistently produce. They can’t completely carry the offense, though, so is there a hitter who will surprise people this year?
Gelb: I’m higher on Jean Segura than most; he’s in better shape, and I think getting off shortstop will help him stay stronger at the plate. I don’t know if anyone in this lineup performing well could be considered a surprise. This batting order is filled with known commodities. The question is what version of each one will appear over 60 games. You’d have a decent feel for this lineup in a 162-game season because water finds its level over that length of time. But 60 games? You could see the Rhys Hoskins of the first 60 games of 2019 (.273/.398/.528) or the Hoskins from the last 60 games (.171/.304/.350). So much variance.
So, I’ll stick with Harper. Would it be a surprise to see him do well? Of course not. But I predict he will do better than well, more like MVP-caliber well. [theathletic.com]
Let's check back in with Jim Salisbury, who had a separate column over at NBC Sports Philly in which he looked at some of the biggest questions and storylines for the Phillies. And this one was interesting, as it appears Nick Pivetta, who lost the battle with Vince Velasquez for the fifth starter spot, could actually wind up with an important role on the team this season.
Who will pitch high-leverage situations in the bullpen?
Girardi believes in relievers having roles, but those roles won't evolve until the season gets rolling. We know Hector Neris will be the closer out of the gate and lefties Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez, based on past usage, will be asked to get big outs near the end of games.
Girardi mentioned Tommy Hunter as a possibility because of his experience. He also mentioned Nick Pivetta, who is headed to the 'pen after failing to win a spot in the rotation.
There's not a lot of big power in the Phillies' bullpen and Pivetta could be a find down there if he can stay poised, command his fastball, execute a breaking ball and most of all accept the role and the possibility that he might be pretty good at it.
"I think for anyone, if you're fighting for a rotation spot and you were moved to the bullpen, I think at the beginning there's going to be disappointment," Girardi said. "But Nick told us, and he reiterated, he's going to do whatever it takes to win and help us, and that's the most important thing." [nbcsports.com]
We mentioned above the expanded playoffs in baseball this season, and Matt Breen of the Inquirer believes the Phillies could be one of the teams benefit from that and sneak in.
The Phillies have not made the postseason since 2011 and it would have been a difficult task to reach the playoffs in the original format after playing a schedule exclusively against the National League East and American League East. Before Thursday’s agreement, three division champions and two wild-card teams qualified for the playoffs.
FanGraphs projects the Phillies to finish 31-29 this season, which is the fourth-best record in the division and tied for the eight-best in the National League. The Phillies, at least according to projections, begin the season as a borderline playoff team. Reaching October, even with added spots, will not be a breeze. But the Phillies’ chances are now certainly better.
“I also personally think it’s great for baseball,” Girardi said. “At a time when we’ve all been starving for live sports, I think you’ll keep more communities, more cities and states, involved in the excitement of baseball because your team has a chance to be in the playoffs, and once you get to that spot, everything goes. I think it’s great for baseball.” [inquirer.com]
Still, the prevailing wisdom is that it will be too much for the Phillies to overcome, and they'll again fall short of making the playoffs. Over at ESPN, they took a post-expansion look at who benefits the most from this and what the playoff field might now look like.
What is your 16-team playoff field?
Doolittle: AL: Yankees, Astros, Twins, A's, Rays, White Sox, Indians, Angels
NL: Dodgers, Nationals, Cardinals, Braves, Padres, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Reds
Schoenfield: AL: Rays, Twins, Astros, Yankees, Indians, A's, Angels, White Sox
NL: Nationals, Reds, Dodgers, Braves, Diamondbacks, Mets, Cubs, Brewers
Mullen: AL: Astros, Yankees, Twins, Rays, A's, Indians, Angels, White Sox.
NL: Dodgers, Braves, Reds, Brewers, Mets, Nationals, D-backs, Padres. [espn.com]
Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of relevant predictions out there with news of the expanded playoffs coming out the same day the season opened, and after many outlets already made their picks.
And beyond that, not many of those other outlets had the Phillies making the playoffs in the 10-team format, let alone being one of the last NL teams standing, so their name didn't come up in any of the other predictions we looked at. Perhaps, the expansion helps, but their schedule and the strength of the other teams in their division certainly won't make it easy.
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