First and foremost, I am honored and blessed to have the opportunity to join the All About The Birds Team! I am extremely excited to be able to showcase my writing talents for this well-established network. Although I am a 4x4 Philly Sports guy through and through, I have always remained a baseball historian. That is where my true passions lie, so being able to write about MLB and, even more importantly the Phillies, allows me the ability to channel that passion to paper!
For my first article, I have decided to do a mini-preview of the team for 2021 and give my predictions of how the division will stack up. So without further ado, let's get crackin'.
The Phillies come into 2021, having spent the second most dollars in free agency this winter. After a tumultuous off-season, Phillies ownership finally made some smart decisions. After replacing the misaligned GM Matt Klentak with the ultra-successful Dave Dombrowski, owner John Middleton finally went to work by continuing the "stupid money" campaign.
The team resigned their marquee free agent, catcher J.T. Realmuto to a 5 year 115.5 million dollar extension. While most in the know thought that Realmuto would walk, the Phillies shocked everyone and quickly changed that narrative. Meanwhile, Philly also retained their other star free-agent by resigning Didi Gregorius to a 2 year 28 million dollar deal. Those two moves by themselves signaled a renewed commitment to winning as the Phillies brass flexed their muscles.
However, Dombrowski didn't bury his face in the sand when it came to the team's bullpen. It's no secret that Phillie's relievers were among the most inept units in the history of major league baseball. In fact, their 7.06 ERA was the second-worst combined all-time. So nothing short of a complete overhaul was in order if the team wanted to improve. The team bolstered the pen by signing Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado.
Bradley is obviously the main attraction of this group as his resume speaks for itself. However, the real hidden gem could be Alvarado, who, when he is on, features some of the nastiest stuff in the game. In 2018, Alvarado posted a 2.39 ERA and 8 saves. He did most of his damage via the K, striking out 80 batters over 64.0 IP.
The team also added Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson, who have experience in the closer role. Furthermore, they traded for Sam Coonrod, who can be a great reliever in this league. Sprinkle in returning veteran closer Hector Neris and youngsters JoJo Romero and Connor Brogdon, and this group begins to look more intriguing moving forward. And then add to it low-risk-high-reward options like David Hale and Hector Rondon, and this bullpen could be sneaky good.
Meanwhile, the Phillies starting staff is the straw that will either stir the drink or sink the ice cube, as far as how successful their season will be. Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler's top of rotation duo is one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. But the key wildcard is definitely Zach Eflin. Could this be the year that he puts it all together? Phillies fans certainly hope so. Although I realize there are many "what-ifs" here, I am banking on a huge year from Eflin. If he can put together 13-15 wins, this team should be a lock for the post-season.
The team also signed Chase Anderson and Matt Moore. Each of these guys is capable of being 4th and 5th starters in the league. And then there is Vince Velasquez, or Vinny V, as most of us have become accustomed to calling him. In my opinion, his time as a starter ran the course yesterday. However, if the team could be a fly on the wall, VV could be a star in the bullpen, but that is a story for another day.
Finally, we have arrived at the offense. This is the point where the team can truly debunk the negativity and rise above expectations. This lineup could be dangerous if healthy. Many forget that Andrew McCutchen played in 2020, coming off a major injury. I certainly think it's possible to expect a bounceback year from the vet. If Cutch can perform anywhere near the way he did in 2019 pre-injury, then it should set the tone.
And then there is Bryce Harper. Harper has had a solid beginning to his Phillies career. However, he has yet to truly play at the level that Bryce is fully capable of. And that, my friends, should be welcome news. I fully expect a breakout campaign for the star slugger, and he should be in the MVP race come September. Harper's stat line could look something like this: .305AVG, .460OBP, .585SLG, 42HR, 104RBI, 107RUNS, 1.050 OPS.
While Harper and Cutch's love is in order here, I also have high expectations for Rhys Hoskins.
And I am fully ready to admit how wrong I was with my Hoskins hate. Yes, I was one of those Twitter keyboard warriors that spent my time bashing the guy and calling for his head. But there was one key element that I ignored. And that is the fact that the Kapler regime and coaching staff had ruined the kid's confidence and that most of his struggles were mental. Well, 2021 is out with the old and in with the new. A full year under competent coaching should be just what the Dr. ordered in curing Hoskin's ills.
As we wind down, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how excited I am to see a full year of Alec Bohm in the fold. Bohm, to me, is the real x-factor. To me, this guy screams superstar in the making. Of course, we all know that he was robbed of Rookie of the Year honors in 2020. Nonetheless, his preparedness and mental approach at the plate is most definitely next level. I am also excited to see how he has improved defensively after a full offseason of preparation. If Bohm can take the next step in 2021, then this offense is bound to soar.
So, where does the shoe finally drop. Even I know that some areas remain huge question marks. The black eye of the team to me is the centerfield position. Who will win the starting job out of Scott Kingery, Adam Hasely, Odubbel Herrera, Roman Quinn, and Matt Joyce? Well, to me, that question mark could be a fluid situation that changes throughout the year. However, there is no doubt that this is the position Dombrowski will target to improve at the trade deadline. And this is the ace in the hole. Having a capable and competent GM in 2021 is a breath of fresh air.
So the question is, do you sense a common theme? I guess that most of you are probably shaking your head. And that reaction is certainly warranted as most of my beliefs here are based upon what-ifs. However, if you look at the process as a whole, my beliefs are based on the fact that this team has totally underachieved, top to bottom, for longer than I wish to remember. That trend has to change for the better, and that is why I feel so strongly about the future of this team. I firmly believe that 2021 will see this team finally put it all together and that they will contend for a postseason birth.
Andrew McCutchen (LF)
Rhys Hoskins (1B)
Bryce Harper (RF)
J.T. Realmuto (C)
Alec Bohm (3B)
Didi Gregorius (SS)
Jean Segura (2B)
Scott Kingery (CF)
Andrew Knapp (C)
Brad Miller (INF/OF)
Matt Joyce (OF)
Roman Quinn (OF)
Archie Bradley (CL)
Hector Neris (SU)
Vince Velasquez (SU)
NL EAST PREDICTIONS: