In 2019, the Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team in the National League. Over the long, grueling 162-game schedule, L.A. won 106 games and their division by 21 games and had a run differential of a whopping +273. They were almost impossible beat all season long and virtually everyone assumed they would win their first World Series since 1988.
Of course, that didn’t happen. The second-best team in the National League, the wild card winning, 93-win Washington Nationals with the second-highest run differential in the NL (+149), beat them in five games and then went on to win the World Series. The Atlanta Braves won the NL East for the second year in a row with 97 victories, while the Cardinals won the Central with 91 wins.
The Dodgers were the leaders of the pack, with a handful of secondary teams all notably better than the rest. But the landscape entering 2020, however, is a bit different.
After yet another campaign of coming close but not winning it all, the Dodgers chose to stand relatively pat this winter. The Cubs appeared to be actively looking to trade established stars away and refused to invest further in a pretty good team. The Braves lost Josh Donaldson and Julio Teheran to free agency, and their acquisitions of bullpen pieces, Cole Hamels and Marcell Ozuna were at least a lateral series of moves. The Nationals re-signed Stephen Strasburg, but lost Anthony Rendon, with no way to replace his production.
Meanwhile, some of the non-winning, non-playoff teams made serious improvements this off-season. The Diamondbacks swung a trade for Pittsburgh outfielder Starling Marte and signed free agent starter Madison Bumgarner to a big free agent deal. The Reds had another busy off-season, signing Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Japanese center fielder Shogo Akiyama, and Wade Miley. The Padres should see a season of growth from their shortstop stud Fernando Tatis, Jr., and fresh off adding Manny Machado last off-season have also brought on board Jurickson Profar, and relievers Drew Pomeranz and Craig Stammen. San Diego also has one of the best farm systems in baseball.
The Reds should certainly be better than their 75-87 record from a year ago. The Padres should also improve significantly from their last place, 70-92 record. The Diamondbacks are hoping to add to their 85-77 season from a year ago, and one can’t forget the Mets, who didn’t get substantially better, but added Dellin Betances to an 86-win team.
It would appear as if the upper crust decided to play it safe and sit this off-season out, while the also-rans and perennial cellar dwellers took the opportunity to be competitive and try to win some ballgames in 2020. Perhaps some all-time low attendance numbers had something to do with it.
Which brings us to the Phillies. How much better did they get this off-season? Are they better than Arizona? Are they better than New York? Are they better than teams that finished with worse records than them last year, specifically the Reds and Padres?
Objectively, the Phillies added to their 81-win team this off-season. In Zack Wheeler, they added a pitcher who should be worth at least three wins above replacement, and if Didi Gregorius returns to form, that’s a significant upgrade at shortsop. But in order for the Phillies to be relevant in a more real way, they have to get better seasons from Jean Segura, Scott Kingery and Rhys Hoskins. They need a couple of their starting pitchers to be dependable arms. They need Jake Arrieta to be an effective big league No. 4 starter. And they desperately need some home grown bullpen arms to prove trustworthy.
There’s reason to hope that at least one or two Phils players have better-than-expected seasons. After all, not a single Phillie overachieved last year, and several underachieved.
Like the Phils, most of these NL teams have giant question marks that could prove to be the difference from being a winning team and a last place club, and of course, injuries can torpedo any club’s season. But it seems clear that the National League has smooshed together a bit, and the Phils will likely be right in the mix.
On Episode 354 of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I ranked the top 12 teams in the National League and where we thought the Phillies fit in. Check it out!