The 2020 MLB season will be like none other. After weeks of a vicious back and forth between the MLB and the Players Association, Commissioner Rob Manfred instituted a shortened 60 game season after the two sides couldn’t agree on a way to restart the season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a rundown of some of the biggest storylines for the Phillies in what will be an unprecedented season.
Part of the plan for this season is a revised schedule where teams strictly play within their division and teams within their geographical proximity, regardless of any NL or AL designations.
For the Phillies, this means they will be playing only the NL East (arguably the most competitive division in baseball) and the AL East which features the juggernaut New York Yankees, contender Tampa Bay Rays, Red Sox, and up and coming Blue Jays.
The Phillies were 36-40 against their division in 2019. That will have to be much better considering that is almost exclusively who they will play.
Need to figure things out, fast
New manager Joe Girardi will have his hands full at the start of this sprint of a season. The Phillies are entering this season without an established bullpen and two starting pitchers that you can feel good about.
There won’t be time to see if Zach Eflin can shake off any rough starts, who works in the bullpen and who doesn’t, and what to do with Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. Joe Girardi is going to have to figure out everything about the pitching staff minus its first two starters within the first 15 or so games of the season, because there simply will not be enough time to let things play out and make adjustments later.
Ride the Lightning Out of the Gate
One good thing about the Phillies under Gabe Kepler was their ability to get off to hot starts. They sat at a surprising 53-42 in the first half of 2018 and 47-44 in 2019. Of course, they then collapsed in the second half of each of those seasons and finished under .500.
Coming out of the gate cold normally isn’t such a bad thing. Just ask the 2019 World Series Champion’s the Washington Nationals. For reference, here’s the NL East standings through 60 games last year.
|New York Mets||29-31|
That all changes in a 60 game season. A 9-13 start out of the gate all but dooms you. There’s no time to turn it on at the end of the year. The end is the beginning. Girardi is going to have to have this team firing on all cylinders right from the start or they will be left in the dust.
What to expect from players
Here’s the numbers for some of the Phillies hitters and pitchers through the team’s first 60 games of 2019:
|Hitter||Slash Line||HR||RBI||Walks||Strikeouts||Games Played|
|Zack Wheeler (with Mets)||77||4.68||1.29||26.7||7.4||9|
|Zach Eflin||65 ⅔||3.02||1.19||18.7||5.1||10|
|Vince Velasquez||34 ⅔||4.67||1.59||24.4||12.8||10|
|Nick Pivetta||29 ⅓||6.14||1.60||23||7.4||7|
|Seranthony Dominguez||23 ⅓||4.24||1.41||26.2||10.7||3|
|Jose Alvarez||22 ⅔||3.57||1.46||15.2||8.1||4|
|Adam Morgan||18 ⅓||1.96||0.71||26.1||7.2||2|
The Future is Here?
Top prospects Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard are in an interesting situation. Bohm had a realistic chance to make the team in the spring, but obviously that was shut down. Howard appears ready to step into the rotation right now, but the Phillies will almost assuredly put his promotion off for at least a week in order to gain an extra year of control.
Both players were expected to make some sort of an impact in 2020. They most likely would have been mid-season call-ups in a normal season. Now there is no minor league season in which they can develop. They both need to play. There is a decent chance they will be given a chance for more playing time due to the expanded rosters and no MiLB season to prepare for a promotion.
The Elephant in the Room
Finally, the ominous entity that will be looming over this season is COVID-19. As of now, no Phillies players have opted out of the season. However, that could very well change. Zack Wheeler has already said he will re-evaluate his decision when his wife gives birth.
Health and safety should be the number one concern for this season. The league and all thirty teams need to make sure their players, staff, and even the umpires feel safe. Even with the protocols MLB has currently in place, there is still so much uncertainty.
What happens when a player tests positive? Yes there is now a COVID IL, but what if a team has an outbreak, not unlike the Phillies did at their camp in Clearwater? Will an entire team need to be quarantined for two plus weeks? What about the opposing team?
Joe Girardi has already expressed that he is developing multiple starting rotations in the event of a pitcher testing positive. There’s little doubt many managers across baseball are doing the same. Managers will not only have to navigate the baseball related problems, but players are going to need leadership more than ever before in such uncertain times.