Obviously, that would make a huge difference in the Phillies’ offense and how they arrange their lineup, but with Harper still sitting on the sidelines as games begin, the answer to that remains to be seen.
What’s more important to the Phillies is trying to figure out why, after they held first place in the N.L. East much of the summer and led as late as August 11 with a 65-51 record, they then went 15-31 the rest of the way, the worst record in the National League over that span.
If you ask manager Gabe Kapler, you get something that sounds vaguely corporate:
“In my opinion, the best way to enforce boundaries is to have players see and identify what isn’t acceptable and address those things,” Kapler said. “In all of the good clubhouses I was in as a player, you put players in place to be on the lookout for things that aren’t acceptable. We’re going to empower players to have a high bar in that clubhouse.”
I guess that means they need strong player-leaders. Most clubhouses do, this isn’t news. The Phillies signed Andrew McCutchen as a free agent; McCutchen is universally respected around the league, even if he’s not the player he used to be. So maybe that’ll help. Having Cutch there will help in one respect — it allows Rhys Hoskins to move back to his natural position at first base. Hoskins in the outfield last year was pretty awful.
Apart from that, the biggest Phillies news so far this offseason was the acquisition of catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins in exchange for Jorge Alfaro (a pretty good young catcher himself) and some prospects. Realmuto will help a young pitching staff anchored by Cy Young candidate Aaron Nola and our old friend Jake Arrieta. Jake won’t ever be his 2015 self again (who could?), but he’s settled into a pretty solid pattern from 2016-18, a good No. 2 or No. 3 level starter. Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin are good young starters and the bullpen is better than you think, now that David Robertson has been signed to close. Seranthony Dominguez, who throws 98+ consistently, posted 16 saves last year, and will set up for Robertson.
The main reason the Phillies faded late is that their pitching fell apart. In those 46 games they allowed 260 runs (5.65 per game) after having averaged 4.03 allowed over the first 116. Fix that and the Phils should be in contention through the entire season.
The Cubs will host the Phillies at Wrigley May 20-21-22-23 and visit Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park August 13-14-15.