The Philadelphia Phillies will open their regular season in a little over a week on April 8th against the Oakland Athletics. They will be looking to break a now ten season postseason drought. Last season was the first time they finished over .500 since 2011 and they had the MVP in Bryce Harper and Cy Young Award runner up in Zack Wheeler, but still missed the postseason by 6.5 games. 

The race to the postseason won’t be any easier inside the N.L. East. The Atlanta Braves are the defending World Series Champions and the New York Mets went on a historic spending spree that was capped off by adding Max Scherzer to a rotation that already boasted Jacob DeGrom. However, the Phillies spent some themselves, and will be bringing the lumber in 2022. Here is a breakdown of all of the biggest storylines heading into the 2022 season. 

Bringing the Thunder

The Phillies were expected to spend, but few expected them to actually go over the luxury tax. Yet they did just that by signing Nick Castellanos just days after agreeing to terms with Kyle Schwarber. The two sluggers will cost a combined $179M, not a bad deal considering the deals that other possible targets received. 

Castellanos and Schwarber will give a Phillies lineup that was very middle of the road last year despite Harper’s performance a much needed jolt. The two newest Phillies both homered on Monday in Clearwater, exhibiting the most enticing aspect of their addition: power. The Phillies ranked 16th in total home runs last year with 198 despite playing in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. Castellanos and Schwarber combined for 66 home runs alone last season. 

Lengthening the Lineup

Bryce Harper won MVP last year despite having just 84 RBIs while leading the league in weighted runs created. Harper had just 125 plate appearances with runners in scoring position last season. That is three less than other MVP finalist Fernando Tatis Jr. who played eleven less games than Harper. The Phillies desperately needed to surround Harper with more hitters to offer production as well as get on base to give him run scoring opportunities. 

Player Batting Position Batting Line Home Runs Plate Appearances in ’21
Kyle Schwarber Leadoff .297/.385/.832 17  117
Nick Castellanos 2nd .370/.418/.711 12 146

 

However, perhaps the biggest beneficiaries will be Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto. This pair will no longer be counted on to be the second and third best run producers in the lineup. They will also see much better pitches to hit because opposing pitching staffs will be picking their poison in this lineup. 

Defense will be an issue

This has been a constant source of discussion since the Phillies’ big signings. It is true that as a team, the Phillies struggled defensively in 2021. Castellanos and Schwarber will not ease those concerns at all, regardless of who is playing in the field and who is the designated hitter. 

However, are either really that much worse than Andrew McCutchen in left field? The 35-year-old McCutchen posted -7 defensive runs saved in 2021. Castellanos had -7 playing right field for the Reds. Schwarber had -6 in 87 games in the outfield. Neither of these two will be an upgrade with their glove, but they will be dramatic upgrades over McCutchen’s bat. Regardless, the infield defense will still be below average at best despite having plus gloves at 2B and catcher. 

Bryson Stott?

Beside the major additions, the biggest buzz surrounding the Phillies as camp winds down is will their top position prospect make the team. Stott has had a standout spring, displaying an easy swing and an uncanny comfort at the plate for such a young player. The 24-year-old is 8-15 with five walks and two extra-base hits including a home run. He looks to be a near lock to make the team at this point. However, the biggest question is where will he play?

Stott’s natural position of shortstop is theoretically open for him. Manager Joe Girardi has said it’s an open competition with Didi Gregorious for playing time. Stott has vastly outperformed Gregorious, but there are more factors at play whether Girardi wants to admit it or not. The Phillies are not going to sit Gregorious’ $14M salary on the bench. Unfair as it might be, he is going to play somewhere. 

A different man out

However, third base has also emerged as an open competition. Incumbent Alec Bohm hasn’t performed well this spring and is reportedly on the trade block. Veteran addition Johan Camargo is better served as a utility man. One of Stott or Gregorious could slide to third with Bohm becoming the odd man out, either being traded or starting the season in Triple A. Fixing Bohm’s swing and giving him playing time in the majors should be a priority over pleasing Gregorious, but it seems as though Bohm has fallen out of favor with the Phillies brass. 

Logic and recent history would seem to behoove the Phillies to let Stott play his normal position his rookie year and force Gregorious over to third. However, Stott has actually logged more career innings at 3B than Gregorious. Stott has logged 78 innings at third since college, while Gregorious has just 10 across his entire pro career. 

This is not a Scott Kingery situation. Second base to Shortstop/3B is harder than SS to 3B/2B. Besides, Stott may very well have a permanent move to 3B or 2B in his future. 

Bullpen Revamp (Again)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Phillies bullpen is a question mark. This time, the team is hoping their veteran one-year deals with Corey Knebel, Jeurys Familia, and Brad Hand will finally solve their backend. But the biggest x-factor is the return of Seranthony Dominguez. 

Dominguez hasn’t pitched regularly since 2019 as he has been recovering from Tommy John surgery since 2020. The 27-year-old has looked electric so far in the spring with six strikeouts in three innings of work. His stuff looks better and he is commanding it well, despite a slight dip in velocity. The dip could be from ramping up after the long layoff or it could be the new norm post injury. Time will tell, but a healthy and effective Dominguez changes the entire outlook of the Phillies bullpen. 

Center field shuffle

Center field is once again an open competition in the spring, with almost the exact group of players competing. The Phillies failed to upgrade at the position in the offseason and made a questionable decision bringing Odubel Herrera back into the fold. Herrera and the other players that suited up in center had the fifth worst WAR as a group in the majors. 

Herrera is now sidelined with an injury, and it appears that Matt Vierling will be getting the opening day nod. Vierling impressed last season as a rookie in a small sample size. The 25-year-old hit .324 with an .843 OPS in 35 games. The Phillies were originally planning on a platoon with Vierling and Herrera, but with the latter’s injury it appears Mickey Moniak has seized the left-handed side. 

Moniak has hit the ball well this spring including a home run in three straight games. He will seemingly be given the opportunity to seize playing time in the Majors especially after the trade of Adam Haseley. Moniak did not make the most of a promotion last year, as he was 3 for 33 with 16 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances. 

Rotation mostly set, but questions persist

The Phillies didn’t elect to upgrade their rotation this winter. On the other hand, you could argue that the biggest upgrades came midway through last season. A full season of Ranger Suarez and Kyle Gibson in the rotation will be a large upgrade over the half season of Vince Velasquez, Matt Moore, and Chase Anderson the Phillies had last year. Suarez will not pitch to a 1.36 ERA again and Gibson may suffer from the poor defense, but both should still be improvements even after regression. 

However, the starting pitching depth is razor thin. And it appears it will be tested early on with Zack Wheeler possibly missing time to start the season. Bailey Falter will likely be the first man up with Christopher Sanchez and Hans Crouse in the minors. Falter had a decent start to 2021 with a 4.50 ERA across 18 innings in nine appearances. But a stint on the COVID-IL starting on July 30th derailed his season, as he had a 6.35 ERA in 15 ⅔ innings after returning and missed on a chance to claim a rotation spot.  

Will Aaron Nola Rebound?

Nola was one of the biggest stories last season for all the wrong reasons. He threw his least amount of innings since 2017 and allowed 26 home runs, one shy of his career worst. The biggest conundrum for Nola was getting the third strike and the third out. He gave up 12 of his home runs allowed with two strikes and 14 with two outs in an inning. 

It’s starting to look like Nola’s 2018 Cy Young caliber season may have been an outlier. That still doesn’t mean he can’t be a very effective number two behind Zack Wheeler. The Nola from 2019-2020 who posted a 3.72 ERA in 273 ⅓ innings would be perfectly sufficient for a team that figures to try and outslug its opponents. He must regain the form on his curveball and improve his fastball command, as well as keeping the ball in the park in 2022.