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March 25, 2019

Phillies season preview: Can Gabe Kapler deal with 2019's high expectations?

Over the last two weeks of spring training, the Phillies turn their prep work to get ready for the regular season into overdrive.

We'll do the same thing here at PhillyVoice. As the March 28 season opener against the Braves approaches, we'll break down everything you need to know to get ready for one of the most anticipated Phillies seasons ever.

Let's take a look at the manager and coaching staff...

MLB managers are a little underestimated. They have an enormous impact on what happens on the field of play over the course of a 162 game season.

While they aren't on the sideline calling plays like an NFL head coach or coordinator, or drawing up plays in the huddle like an NBA head coach, MLB managers set a lot in motion and make tons of key decisions.

Last season, Gabe Kapler made his debut as Phillies' skipper to mixed reviews. Some said he over-managed. Some said he relied too much on analytics. And others said he let his locker room get away from him a bit.

In 2019, with a much better pool of talent to pull levers on, the expectations are higher and the decision-making may actually be easier. 

Scouting report

Kapler used 138 different batting orders in 2018, over the course of a 162 game season. That number does not include the pitcher's spot either. There should be, if the team stays healthy, a lot less diversity in lineups this season.

The batting order for Monday's final spring training game could be the bedrock for the entire season, which is as follows:

1. Andrew McCutchen, 7, RH
2. Jean Segura, 6, RH
3. Bryce Harper, 9, LH
4. Rhys Hoskins, 3, RH
5. J.T. Realmuto, 2, RH
6. Odubel Herrera, 8, LH
7. Cesar  Hernandez, 4, Both
8. Maikel Franco, 5, RH

There really aren't too many lefty-righty match up decisions to make, nor are there players in the above lineup who are fringe big leaguers. The stability in the roster could be a big help to the team as it looks to overcome last year's epic late-summer collapse.

The biggest question mark, then, for the Phillies and Kapler's decision-making rests in the bullpen. Will he pick a closer? Or will he select the ninth-inning pitcher based on matchups?

Last season, nine different relievers recorded a save. That's more pitchers than will be on the Phils' opening day 25-man roster. It seems pretty likely that David Robertson and last year's bullpen breakthrough Seranthony Dominguez will each get opportunities to close out games. It seems doubtful, at least based on last year as a sample, that Kapler will conventionally assign roles to his bullpen arms. 

This makes his player management on the pitching side something to keep an eye on in 2019.

NL East ranking

As far as managerial chops, the NL East doesn't have much. Kapler joined two other managers in the division as freshman last season and just the Braves' Brian Snitker, in his third year with Atlanta, appeared in postseason, falling 3-1 in the first round. 

Ironically, Don Mattingly — who will lead the likely last-place Marlins — is the best and most proven manager in the division, having led Los Angeles to three straight postseasons from 2013-15.

 Team ManagerCareer record Playoff record
Phillies Gabe Kapler80-82 (1 season)
BravesBrian Snitker221-227 (3 seasons)1-3
NationalsDave Martinez 82-80 (1 season)
MetsMickey Calloway77-85 (1 season)
MarlinsDon Mattingly665-628 (291-265 with Miami)8-11 (with Dodgers)

Phillies future

Kapler is 43 and among the youngest managers in MLB. He is under contract through the 2020 season, which does not give him very much job security — though few head coaches in any major sport have any real security.

In order for him to be retained next year, with the high expectations due to the overhauled roster, Kapler will likely need to show he can lead the hungry Phillies to a playoff berth. Otherwise, Phillies fans and front office members will probably make Kapler the scapegoat and go in a different, less risky direction.

Phillies season preview
C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | RF | CF | LF
SP | RP | Bench | Coach

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