WHOA! Did you see that? The National League East has almost overnight become the best division in all of baseball. The Phillies, though, tend to get overlooked in that conversation.
What started as a division with a rotating division winner (sans the Marlins) with a bunch of Wild Card hopefuls, has become a den of lions fighting over the newest kill (sans the Marlins).
How did we get here? Who’s the current king of the jungle? Most importantly, WHY IS EVERYONE PREDICTING THE PHILLIES WILL FINISH FOURTH?
Well, let’s answer those questions and show why the Phillies have a good a shot as anyone to make noise in the NL East.
How Did We Get Here?
If you’re a Phillies fan who’s mentally clocked out after season upon season of no better than mediocre baseball, then you’ll be surprised that the Phillies are good again.
You might also not recognize that they’re good again because SO IS EVERY OTHER TEAM IN THIS DIVISION.
In this era of the NL East, it was the Nationals who first stepped into the forefront of the division. Except for 2020, the Nationals have finished 1st or 2nd in the division since Bryce Harper won Rookie of the Year. They’re an aging team with a couple of major bright spots in Trea Turner and Juan Soto.
In 2019, they peaked, winning the World Series over the Houston Astros.
The Atlanta Braves also emerged after a quick retool/rebuild. They’ve won the division for the past 3 seasons. Freddie Freeman finally won a well-deserved MVP. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Ian Anderson make up the solid young core that should make the squad division favorites again in 2021.
The Marlins, as weird as it sounds, have the potential to be sneaky good. They snuck into the expanded playoffs in 2020 and molly-whopped the Chicago Cubs. They have some low-key good starters and a bunch of young hitters, any of whom could break out.
The inevitable bloodbath could make the division wide open, but yet, people still underestimate the Phillies. There are plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t be.
Why the Phillies can win
Phillies’ Bullpen Improvements?
What’s the one thing you think about when I say 2020 Philadelphia Phillies? There’s only one glaring thing that could possibly spring to mind: the worst Phillies bullpen in 90 years.
Last season, the Phillies’ bullpen posted a 7.06 ERA. They weren’t just bad or terrible. They were historically bad. In a normal season, it’s possible they could’ve turned it around. In 2019, the Washington Nationals’ bullpen posted a 6.66 ERA in their first 60 games. The rest of the season their bullpen posted a 5.13 ERA. While still not good, they recovered enough to make the playoffs and win the World Series.
This offseason the Phillies did their best to address the bullpen, bringing in a mix of young flamethrowers and veteran relievers. Jose Alvarado was the first big acquisition. He struggled through injuries in 2019 and 2020 but was immaculate in 2018 when he posted a 172 ERA+ and a 2.27 FIP. If he rebounds in 2021, the Phillies got away with a steal.
Sam Coonrod became the next piece the Phillies added in a trade with the Giants. He’s more of a prospect as he’s one of the few players that can crank his fastball up to triple digits. He should have a good shot to make an impact, just ignore his 2020 ERA.
On January 18th, the Phillies signed their brightest 2021 bullpen piece, Archie Bradley. Bradley has a 2.95 ERA since 2017, coincidentally that was also his ERA in 2020. He’s already endeared himself to fans, calling the Phillies to “Sign JT” while the ink was still drying on his contract. He could be the Phillies closer.
Three minor league deals the Phillies made could also go a long way in improving the bullpen. Hector Rondon had a grisly 2020. Ignoring that, he has a 3.29 ERA for his career. Jumping way too far ahead, he has a 2.70 World Series ERA. Just saying.
The 11-year vet Brandon Kintzler made the Phillies his 6th team in his career after turning down a Marlins’ major-league deal. He has a career 3.31 ERA and a 2.55 ERA in the past 2 seasons. It would be a shock if he doesn’t make the main roster.
Lastly, the Phillies brought in lefty Tony Watson. The soon-36-year-old sports a career 2.80 ERA and posted a 2.50 ERA in 2020. He, too, should make the main roster.
The Phillies added veterans Matt Moore and Chase Anderson to effectively replace Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez. The 1-time All-Star, Matt Moore, struggled the past several seasons in MLB. He seemed to find himself in Japan, posting a 2.65 ERA and a 10.3 K/9. His stateside return will be a storyline to follow in 2021.
Chase Anderson hit a pothole heading up to Canada/Buffalo last season, posting a 7.20 ERA. The rest of his career has been fairly consistent with a 3.94 ERA. He’s by no means an ace, but he is a solid 4/5 starter.
Phillies’ Offense Should Stay Hot
With the bullpen addressed the Phillies are essentially bringing back the same offensive squad from 2020. I’ll tell you why that’s a good thing. In 2020, the Phillies offense posted the 7th-highest OPS in baseball (.785). They had the 3rd-highest OBP (.342). They scored the 5th-most runs in all of baseball.
The offense should be good. The front office also made it a point to add to the rotation. In 2020, their starters had the 10th-best ERA in baseball (4.08). Phillies’ starters trailed only the Reds and Indians in terms of fWAR (7.0). The Phillies’ starting staff also struck out opposing batters at the 8th-highest rate in baseball with 9.52 K/9.
Viewing the Phillies as a whole, they have a chance to make some serious noise in the division.
Photo Credit: Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire