‘Hope springs eternal’ embodies every single team’s hopes at the start of every single Major League Baseball season.
Thankfully, we’re back to a 162-game season with some fans in the stands — a just reward for countless sports fans who have been waiting for this shred of normalcy for over a year.
With it comes a renewed, energized outlook — just like every team’s hopes at the start of a new season — but the Phillies have been dealt quite a difficult hand simply based on the division they play in.
The National League East is the most stacked division in baseball, featuring an Atlanta Braves team with a domineering trio of stars in Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies.
The Washington Nationals are 18 months removed from winning the World Series, and the New York Mets were one of the big spenders of the offseason, acquiring superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor after billionaire hedgefund owner Steve Cohen took over in November.
It has many pundits picking the Phillies to finish in the middle or bottom half of the division, and — when taking off those rose-colored glasses — it’s understandable.
But, that doesn’t mean the Phillies should be counted out; not in the slightest.
Let’s take a look at what the Phillies are working with in 2021:
A largely unchanged lineup isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. In fact, the Phillies had one of the better offenses in baseball last season despite missing the playoffs in MLB’s 60-game spring.
They scored the fifth-most runs in all of baseball while their team OPS at .781 was ranked No. 7.
Of course, things revolve around Bryce Harper — who wasn’t shy in saying what is a well-known fact last month: “I know when I’m playing well, we win more games so hopefully, we can keep that going this year, keep feeling good, and see where that goes.”
Spot on, sure, but the right-fielding slugger who is projected to put up another year of 35-plus home runs with an OPS over .900 will need help, and the largest question mark in the lineup will be his bash brother in Rhys Hoskins.
The first baseman batted .226 in 2019, including a miserable stretch over the final two months of the season in which he didn’t even bat .170. Things looked better in 2020 when he hit .245 with an .887 OPS, 10 home runs, and 26 RBI in 41 games, but a consistent Hoskins will be able to take so much offensive pressure off the shoulders of Harper.
There will be other sources of prominent production from the plate. A healthy Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius should flirt with 25 home runs this season while plenty of interested eyes will be fixated on rookie third baseman, Alec Bohm — considered to be one of the future faces of this franchise.
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have the top two spots of the rotation bolstered down. That’s about all we know and can trust when it comes to the Phillies’ starting-pitching situation.
The organization is still holding out hope that Zach Eflin can become a serviceable starter at the No. 3 spot while taking on reclamation projects in veterans Matt Moore and Chase Anderson.
Dave Dombrowski and Co. did well to at least address the team’s historically bad bullpen, which became just the third unit in MLB history to yield an ERA of over 7.00 for an entire season. Both Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado are expected to provide a considerable boost out of the pen.
But that probably won’t inspire much confidence to completely turn things around for a team that ranked 27th in collective ERA and WHIP last season — thus presenting the obvious Achilles heel of a franchise that has not made the playoffs in nearly a decade.
NL East predictions
1. Atlanta Braves
2. New York Mets
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Miami Marlins