Now that the season has started and the 2022 games are underway, we have witnessed what this team can do. There was some of the expected (the hitting), the unexpected (three third basemen in three days?) and the pleasantly surprising (that rotation...). We saw pretty much a microcosm of this team and what it is capable of all weekend, so now is the perfect time to make snap judgements and instant observations that will undoubtedly hold up all season long.
Observation #1: The rotation is the best in all of baseball
Admit it, you didn’t think any of these pitchers had it in them to post starts like they had. Sure there were some people who saw that the team’s rotation was a strength like they haven’t had since the halcyon days of Halladay/Lee/Hamels, but astute observers knew that this rotation was five members deep of pitchers capable of giving a quality start each time out. Missing Zack Wheeler to start the first game, the team turned to Aaron Nola to get things started and he didn’t disappoint (6 IP, 4 R, 0 BB, 7 K). We can quibble with his seventh inning efforts, but that was more of an issue of being left in by his manager than anything. His stuff was sharp and he showed that, outside of that home run in the seventh, he should be considered a top member of the rotation yet again.
The next day, Kyle Gibson came from nowhere to give the strongest start of the three (7 IP, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K), a surprising turn of events. Gibson benefitted from having a changeup that saw some upticks in horizontal movement and spin, something that if he can maintain, could make him pretty dangerous. Zach Eflin (4 IP, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K) was obviously on a strict pitch count in his first outing, but he also impressed with his stuff as well. With Ranger Suarez and Zack Wheeler getting their first starts in short order, if they can replicate last year’s success in any way, this rotation all of a sudden will be talked about among the game’s elite.
What was particularly pleasing was the lack of free passes given up to the Athletics during the series by the starters. In his postgame presser on Saturday, Joe Girardi talked about this, stressing how much the team talks about throwing strikes early and often in the count and what it does for the pitchers. It’s something pitching coach Caleb Cotham has talked about in the past, how much emphasis the team puts on simply throwing strikes, not trying get stuff around the edges of the zone. Instead, the team looks to attack the zone with pitches that are moving, hoping to get either weak contact or no contact at all. It’s a simple strategy that they have had trouble executing in the past. Should they continue anything remotely like this as the season presses on, they’ll be in good shape.
Observation #2: Bryce Harper is doomed to fourth fiddle on this team
This offseason was an interesting display of “shiny new toy” syndrome among portions of the fanbase. All anyone wanted to talk about was the acquisitions of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, followed closely by the need to put Bryson Stott in the lineup, instead of focusing on how wonderful it is to pencil Bryce Harper into the lineup every day. After watching them this weekend, it’s clear why these people had their priorities where they were. Schwarber led off the season with a home run, Castellanos went deep in game two and Stott showed in both games that he’s likely to become the starter at shortstop or third base in short order.
Meanwhile, the league MVP? What did he do?
All I see is an .091 batting average, a .413 OPS and an on-base streak lost in the sands of time.
Beginning to see why Washington gave up on him.
After such a hot spring training where he hit eight home runs, many were probably looking at Bryce Harper as a shoo-in to start the season with a home run or two, especially on the day where he was given his MVP award in front of the fans. All we got out of it was a lousy 1 for 11 performance that saw him have a double, but pssshhh - he almost ran himself into an out on it.
Real MVPs don’t do that. Real MVPs begin the season with a bang, hoisting a team on his shoulders and carrying them as he should, not letting other players get all the glory. After all, why else is the team paying him $300 million?
The decline phase has begun. Look for a down season from Harper in 2022.
Observation #3: if they can’t sweep even the ghost of the Athletics’ rosters past, what hope is there for them this year?
Seriously, why believe in this team?
We knew that headed into this series, the Athletics weren’t going to be anything near what they have been in the past. They had traded away their starting first and third basemen, as well as their likely Opening Day pitcher. Let’s not also forget the fact that their manager didn’t want to stick around for a rebuilding process and bolted for further down in the state. Even still, Oakland willingly trotted out a lineup that included Elvis Andrus getting more at bats on purpose than more qualified hitters like Stephen Piscotty and still managed to take a game from the series.
If the Phillies can’t sweep a team like the Athletics in a series at home to begin the season, what hope is there for them at all?
Truly, though, this was about all one could ask for in an opening weekend. The team’s offense showed what it is capable of when players are firing on all cylinders. The starters did pretty much exactly what was asked of them and outside of a few hiccups, the bullpen fared rather well. The defense still needs some work, but they didn’t cost the team anything of substance just yet. For an opening weekend, things were pretty, pretty, pretty good.