It feels a bit stupid to write a piece about baseball between the lines when so much is happening outside the lines that could end everything before it really gets started. The COVID-19 outbreak on the Miami Marlins has thrown cold water on the optimism that may have existed that Major League Baseball would be able to get through all 60 games in his highly abnormal 2020 season.
Phillies players, coaches and team staff are obviously holding their breaths as they continue to get tested throughout the week and remain sidelined until Friday at the earliest. But if they do return to action, there will be baseball again, and so let’s pretend for a moment that the Phils will be back, playing baseball against opposing big league baseball teams.
The Phillies lost another series to the lowly Miami Marlins last weekend, which is nothing new. Over the last two years, the Phils (with a payroll nearing the $208 million luxury tax) have gone 10-12 against Miami, a ridiculously poor record against a team with a payroll of just over $79 million.
It was frustrating, if unsurprising, to watch Vince Velasquez struggle on Sunday. It was disappointing to watch Phils hitters fail to support Aaron Nola on Friday and flail so badly with the bases loaded (0-for-5, 14 runners left on base) on Sunday. It was horrifying to gaze upon a youthful bullpen that looked incapable of having a clean inning.
But fans, it’s just three games, and there were some positives to come out of the Phils’ weekend tilt with the Fish at the Bank this weekend.
Didi Gregorius Power Surge
When general manager Matt Klentak signed the former Yankees shortstop to a one-year, $13 million deal, the hope was Gregorius would recapture the form that saw him average 24 homers a season from 2016-18. In his first two games with the Phillies, Didi went yard twice, and neither of his blasts were cheap.
DIDI!— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) July 25, 2020
Gregorius with a second-deck homer to get things going. 1-0, Phillies. pic.twitter.com/b9fyHjdhW3
Last year, Gregorius played in just 82 games after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his throwing arm and, in his final half-season with New York hit .238/.276/.441 with 16 bombs. The power was there, but the batting average and on-base percentage were obviously too low to be considered productive.
Gregorius was one of the many question marks the Phils had entering the season and, while nothing is for sure yet, the early returns on the team’s new shortstop are promising.
Zack Wheeler Lookin’ Good
Zack Wheeler was the Phils’ big free agent acquisition this winter and, in his first start, he looked every bit the part of a No. 2 starter.
Zack Wheeler gets his first out as a Philly using a slider down and away.— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) July 25, 2020
Exactly what we've been hoping for. pic.twitter.com/VIVZjljWu7
In his first outing, Wheeler went seven innings and gave up just one run on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts. He efficiently threw 87 pitches in his seven innings of work and featured a nasty slider and curveball to go with a fastball that lived in the mid-to-upper 90s.
Phillies Infield Defense
One of the team’s weaknesses the last few years has been infield defense. With Maikel Franco at third base, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jean Segura and Scott Kingery at shortstop, Cesar Hernandez at second and Rhys Hoskins at first, the Phils’ glove work around the diamond was middling-to-poor. At various points, Jake Arrieta had grumbled about their lackluster performance.
But in the first three games of the 2020 season, the new infield alignment has looked outstanding. Segura has made the transition to the hot corner smoothly, making the quick reaction plays like a seasoned pro. Gregorius has inhaled everything hit his way and then some, and with Kingery at his normal position of second base, the two have turned a number of beautiful double plays so far. Hoskins isn’t much of a glove at first, but all you want out of your first baseman is to gobble up the balls he’s supposed to get and bail out his infielders once in a while.
And check out the double play turned by Kingery and Didi at the :08 mark of this video.
This all should make Arrieta very happy.
Harper & Realmuto Go Deep
Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are the team’s two superstars. One of them we know will be here forever, the other could be gone very soon, but it was equally sweet to watch both of them pound long, prodigious dingers over the weekend.
It would be a real shame if the Phillies don’t pony up the dough and keep these two together through both their primes.
The Phil Gosselin Show
Who doesn’t love it when a local boy makes good? West Chester’s own Phil Gosselin sure made me look like an idiot on Saturday.
I feel like I'm ultra-critical right now and I know he had a million hits during Summer Camp but, of all the Phils' options for DH, it's Phil Gosselin? https://t.co/NXCPZTnmcB— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) July 25, 2020
It’s good to know Phil reads the tweets.
So yes, I failed to take into account Phil Gosselin’s early MVP-like performance. Lesson learned.
There you go, five things to feel good about regarding the Phillies’ opening three game series against the Marlins. Now we just need to hope they get to play more games.