While official schedules are still in development, the Phillies do know who they will face in the 60-game abbreviated season. As Jon Heyman reported, MLB teams will play 40 games against their own division and 20 games against the division’s geographical counterpart. For the Phillies, this breaks down to playing 10 games each versus the Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, New York Mets, and Washington Nationals, and then four games each against the AL East’s Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Toronto Blue Jays.
The Phillies already had their work cut out for them to usurp the Braves and Nationals. Now, they must do so in a shorter season with games against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. Today, we take a look at each of the Phillies’ reported 2020 opponents, beginning with the NL East.
The Phillies went 10-9 against the NL East Champion Braves in 2019. The Braves, however, outscored the Phillies in those contests 119-97. Offensively, the Braves are led by 1B Freddie Freeman and LF Ronald Acuna Jr. The pair hit the Phillies hard last year, with respective OPS’s of 1.013 and 1.023. Free agency saw 3B Josh Donaldson jumping ship to Minnesota while the Braves added OF Marcell Ozuna and C Travis D’Arnaud.
The Braves have a young pitching core consisting of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, and Mike Foltynewicz. Soroka posted a strong 2.68 ERA as the Braves’ ace last year. Fried meanwhile pitched a respectable 4.02 ERA season in 30 starts. Foltynewicz and Newcomb each have potential as starters but must prove they can hold the position. The Braves lost Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel to free agency but gained a familiar face in 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. The delayed season may work in favor of Hamels as he was suffering from left shoulder inflammation in late February. The Braves also possess a capable bullpen highlighted by offseason acquisition Will Smith (not the Fresh Prince, the other one). Even if the Brave’s young starting pitchers burn out, they possess the backend to stay in each game.
While the Braves may have taken a small hit offensively, they remain just as potent a team as they were in 2019. The young pitching staff’s longevity will also benefit from a short season.
Despite their last-place finish, the Marlins tormented the Phillies last year and have only improved this season. They were 10-9 against the Phillies in 2020, taking away valuable wins in the deep division. While the Marlins lost Marcell Ozuna to the aforementioned Braves, the team traded for 3B Jonathan Villar from the Orioles, picked up struggling 1B Jesus Aguilar, and signed a familiar face in OF Corey Dickerson. Villar can play just about anywhere in the infield and is a fast runner. In a game that idolizes home runs, Villar swiped 40 bags last year while hitting 24 home runs. Dickerson, meanwhile, is a consistent batter and will certainly find a constant spot in the lineup.
Aguilar is the potential game-changer, depending on which version we see of him. In 2018, he hit 35 home runs with a .890 OPS. Last year, he hit 12 home runs while his OPS dropped to .714. His HR/FB ratio dropped from 16.7% to 9.7% over the course of those years. If Aguilar finds a way to get more bat on the ball this year, he could be Derek Jeter’s new clean-up batter, especially with the DH in play this season.
Sandy Alcantara just finished his first full season in the majors last season. In 2019, he impressed with a 3.88 ERA in 197.1 IP for the Marlins, earning himself the title of team ace. The Marlins will utilize young pitching and prospects this season. Sixto Sanchez, whom the Phillies traded to the Marlins for JT Realmuto, may make his debut this season.
The Marlins are still a few years away from competing in the NL East, but that did not stop them from disrupting the Phillies last year.
New York Mets
Despite having changed managers twice over the offseason, the Mets are in a great position coming into 2020. 2019 Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso earned the title last year, having hit for a league-leading 53 home runs. He only hit three home runs off the Phillies in 2019, giving hope that the Phillies can contain him. Much of the Mets’ 2019 offense will return, but an old name may find its way into the lineup. Yoenis Cespedes’ various injuries have kept him out of the lineup since 2018. Perhaps the DH is a perfect way for the Mets to bring back the former Silver Slugger without risking any further injury.
The Mets’ pitching staff took a serious blow when the Phillies took Zack Wheeler from them in free agency. That would not be the last blow they would suffer. Noah Syndergaard tore his UCL in Spring Training, leading to Tommy John surgery, ending his 2020 season. Without Syndergaard, the Mets look to ace Jacob deGrom to lead a staff with Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, and free agents Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. While not the staff GM Brodie Van Wagenen had in mind, this pitching staff is the dark horse of the NL East. In addition to two-time Cy Young Award-winning deGrom, the staff does consist of former all-stars and a Cy Young award winner.
Losing two of their top three pitchers is a huge loss for the Mets, but Porcello, Wacha, and Stroman are no walk in the park. The Mets may not be as strong as in 2019, but they will compete.
The Nationals may have won the World Series last season, but the offseason did not go as well as planned. While the Nats re-signed Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon joined Mike Trout in Anaheim in a blockbuster deal. SS Trea Turner was left as the only potent threat in an infield full of players on the back end of their careers. The Nationals were not even successful in their “plan B” of acquiring Josh Donaldson. In the outfield, Juan Soto continued to produce in his second year in the majors by hitting 34 home runs with a .949 OPS. He is complemented by his fellow outfielders Victor Robles and Adam Eaton. Offensively, the Nats’ lineup only truly consists of Turner, the Childish Bambino (AKA Soto), Robles, and Eaton.
But offense is not the Nationals’ bread and butter. Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin make up one of the best pitching trios in the league. The three pitched a combined 583.1 IP last year with 732 strikeouts. Anibal Sanchez will claim the fourth rotation slot, with Joe Ross and Austin Voth competing for the final slot. The Nationals reinforced Sean Doolittle in the bullpen by bringing back Daniel Hudson and signing Will Harris to solidify their bullpen.
The Nationals won a World Series without Bryce Harper, they must now try to do the same without Rendon. Their pitching is still among the best in the league, the offense just needs to keep up.
Stay tuned for our analysis of the American League East.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports