By Peter Brennan

Let’s get the messy part out of the way:

The Phillies were 81-81 last season and that was a big letdown after their added Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto.

They missed the postseason for the eighth consecutive season — 2012, when Barack Obama was in his first term.

Following the conclusion of the 2019 season, they fired manager Gabe Kapler after just two seasons and replaced him with former Yankees skipper Joe Girardi.

Righty Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius are also new to the fold and will try to help Harper, Realmuto and company improve on a .500 record.

The Phillies are going to need their core to play better in 2020 if they hope to compete in a talented NL East division as they open Training Camp 2.0 today.

Win total projection, odds

2020 Sportsline projection: 31-29

World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): 25/1

2019 record: 81-81 (Missed playoffs)

Projected lineup

  1. LF Andrew McCutchen
  2. 3B Jean Segura
  3. RF Bryce Harper
  4. 1B Rhys Hoskins
  5. C J.T. Realmuto
  6. DH Jay Bruce
  7. 2B Scott Kingery
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. CF Adam Haseley

Bench: C Andrew Knapp, INF/OF Josh Harrison, INF/OF Neil Walker, OF/1B Roman Quinn, OF Nick Williams

By his standards, Harper had a slightly below-average season at the plate in his debut year in red pinstripes (.260/.372/.510, 35 home runs, 125 OPS+), but did see some improvement on his defense. Either way, all eyes are going to be on the club’s superstar to play better in the Phillies’ push for the playoffs.

Projected rotation

  1. RHP Aaron Nola
  2. RHP Zack Wheeler
  3. RHP Jake Arrieta
  4. RHP Vince Velasquez
  5. RHP Zach Eflin

The Phillies staff finished with the NL’s fifth-highest ERA of 4.53 last season. Only the Padres, Marlins, Pirates and Rockies had worse marks.

The Wheeler signing adds a nice compliment to Aaron Nola at the top of the rotation, but the club has question marks around the next three starters. Will Jake Arrieta see himself return to form after two oft-injured seasons? The right-hander will be entering his age-34 season in 2020. Will Vince Velasquez and/or Zach Eflin be able to keep their rotation spots? There’s not going to be much time to figure it out in a 60-game campaign.

Projected bullpen

  • Closer: RHP Hector Neris
  • Setup: RHP Tommy Hunter, LHP Adam Morgan
  • Middle: RHP Nick Pivetta, LHP Jose Alvarez, LHP Ranger Suarez, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Victor Arano, LHP Cole Irvin
  • Long: RHP Enyel De Los Santos, RHP Deolis Guerra

This season, the Phillies will be without right-hander Seranthony Dominguez who will likely miss all of the 2020 season due to requiring Tommy John surgery to repair his torn UCL. They’ll be looking for a rebound season from their entire bullpen group in 2020. It’ll probably benefit the club to have Joe Girardi, who has some experience constructing and handling talented bullpens from his time with New York.

Here are three storylines to watch as the Phillies navigate a 60-game slate.

Rotation concerns

The Phillies will need contributions from a consistent set of arms in 2020 if they hope to avoid another crash-and-burn season.

After the No. 2 spot in the Phillies rotation, there’s a big drop off. The club is going to have make sure they determine who will be the most effective after Nola and Wheeler, and figure it out quickly. Right-hander Nick Pivetta is a likely replacement starter option if Vince Velasquez or Zach Eflin ultimately don’t work out in the rotation or Arrieta gets hurt. There’s also top Phillies prospect Spencer Howard available, as he was included on the club’s initial 60-man roster for 2020. Howard, 23, was the Phillies’ second-round pick in 2018. The right-hander finished his 2019 season in the minors with a 2.15 ERA in 71 innings pitched.

Tough opponents in shortened schedule

While we don’t yet know the official MLB schedule for the 2020 season, we do know that in an effort to limit traveling, the league will keep teams within their geographic regions. So, for the Phillies, that’s going to mean playing against their National League East foes along with the American League East. In 2020, those figured to be two of the toughest divisions in baseball.

Six of the nine teams the Phillies are going to face in 2020 figure to contend for playoff spots. They will also get 10 games against the Marlins, but those are not guaranteed victories. Philly went 9-10 against last-place Miami in 2019.

Realmuto contract extension talks

Aside from questions and concerns for the Phillies roster in 2020, there’s also the question of whether or not the club plans to sign starting catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown certainly put a halt to any progress that was being made in negotiations between Realmuto and the Phillies. Before COVID-19 suspended baseball operations — including putting a freeze on transactions — it was thought that the two parties might agree to a multiyear contract extension before MLB’s original Opening Day of March 26.


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