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2022 season preview: Analyzing the Phillies’ strengths

What, exactly, are the Phillies going to be good at?

MLB: MAR 27 Spring Training - Phillies at Blue Jays
There should be a lot of home plate celebrations for the Phillies’ lineup in 2022
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We get it: The Phillies’ defense looks like it might be really bad this year. And we might suffer through yet another season of poor relief pitching. But who wants to hear about that? It’s Spring! Spring is a time for optimism! Spring is a time to believe that maybe this year, everything is going to finally break your way.

So enough about the Phillies’ apparent weaknesses. Let’s talk about what they are expected to be good at. And from my perspective, this team will have two major strengths:

Lineup

Fangraphs predicts the Phillies to score 4.86 runs per game, the third highest figure in the National League. Considering the lineup boasts the reigning MVP and they added two high-profile sluggers in the offseason, that sounds about right.

The first six spots in the lineup will likely consist of Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura in some order. That’s going to be a tough stretch for opposing pitching staffs to navigate through. Four of those guys have 30+ home run seasons under their belts, and plenty of on-base skills to go with that power. There’s decent righty-lefty balance, which should make it tougher for managers to neutralize them with relief specialists.

As for the bottom of the lineup, there’s a chance that doesn’t look too bad either. A lot of eulogies were written about Didi Gregorius’ career after a horrendous 2021 season, but he was one of the better-hitting shortstops in the National League in 2020. Based on what he’s shown in Spring Training, those struggles may have been mostly injury-related, and he’s (hopefully) past that now.

The last two spots will be manned by some combination of Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, Mickey Moniak, and Matt Vierling. All are unproven, but there’s some definite upside. And basically, given the expected strength at the top of the lineup, the Phillies just need them not to be automatic outs.

Starting pitching

The Phillies’ starting rotation has received fewer headlines than their lineup, and I feel it is being underrated by many. Maybe they won’t be throwing four aces out there, but the rotation still looks like one of the better ones in the league.

For much of 2021, the Phillies’ rotation consisted of two pitchers who could be reliably counted on to last into the sixth inning or beyond. The other three days featured brief and often ineffective outings by the likes of Spencer Howard, Vince Velasquez, and Matt Moore. While injuries could derail things (speaking of, how about that Mets super rotation?), the situation appear to be much better now.

I was skeptical when the Phillies spent big money on Zack Wheeler two years ago, but he’s been one of the best free agents the team has ever signed. It’s possible he takes a slight step back from last year, but a slight step back from Cy Young caliber is still pretty good. Behind him is Aaron Nola, and we really don’t need to have the whole “Is Aaron Nola an ace?” argument this year. He’s not an ace, but when he’s at his best, he earns Cy Young Award votes, and even at his worst, he’s no worse than a league average starter who throws a lot of innings.

Ranger Suarez was a revelation in a variety of roles in 2021, and he probably won’t be quite as good as he was last year. But similar to Wheeler, when you pitch as well as he did last year, even a slight step back is pretty good. The guy who was supposed to be 2021’s breakout star was Zach Eflin, but his season was cut short by an injury. He appears to have made a quick recovery, and the hope is that he’ll be able to belatedly live up to those high expectations.

In the fifth spot is Kyle Gibson who was an All-Star before the Phillies traded for him in July. A return trip to the All-Star Game is probably unlikely, but having a competent, innings eater in the fifth slot of the rotation is pretty good.

The depth behind those guys doesn’t look all that promising at the moment, unless you’re a big believer in Hans Crouse or Bailey Falter. But if the starting five can make it through the season mostly unscathed, then they’ve got a rotation filled with guys who can keep the team in the game at the very least, and dominate opponents at their best.