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The hope of Opening Day

Even the worst of teams have hope for at least one day every season.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

In the spring of 1993, expectations were low.

Most major publications picked the Phillies to finish near the bottom of the NL East standings. In those days, only four teams made the playoffs and there was no way a last place team in 1992 was going to do a 180 reversal and become a division champion. It certainly wasn’t going to happen to a ragtag Phillies team that hadn’t made the postseason in 10 years and had been largely disappointing from 1984 to ‘92.

Then, those ‘93 Phillies started to play some spring training games. They looked pretty good. And we began to remember that, the year before, the offense was actually outstanding, even with Lenny Dykstra breaking his wrist that Opening Day, and you started to feel like maybe the ‘93 Phils wouldn’t be so bad after all.

They came up north after going 16-10 in the spring and opened the season in Houston against a solid Astros team that was expected to contend in the NL West. Regardless of where or who they were playing, the Phils hadn’t won an Opening Day in eight years, so any kind of success out of the gate was welcomed. They then, of course, started the ‘93 campaign with a three-game sweep of the Astros, led by outstanding starting pitching and timely hitting, eventually cruising to an out-of-nowhere NL East title and World Series appearance against the Blue Jays.

Every Opening Day brings with it hope, and this year is no different. Make no mistake, these 2022 Phillies have higher expectations placed upon them than that ‘93 team, thanks to a luxury tax-busting payroll full of super sluggers, a rotation with star power at the top, and a bullpen that will, in equal measure, strike guys out and strike fear into the hearts of Phils fans all summer long.

There is hope Bryce Harper will repeat his MVP performance of 2021, when he lifted the team on his back and almost single-handedly kept them in playoff contention until the final series of the season, a hope that is buoyed by a very strong spring in which he led the team with 8 dingers.

There is hope the new bangers, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, will add a dimension and length to the lineup we haven’t seen since the 2007-2011 glory run. Both could hit 35-40 homers, both get on base a ton, and both should make life miserable for opposing pitchers. In Schwarber, the Phils likely have an answer to their on-base problem in the leadoff spot, hopefully giving Harper and others more RBI opportunities than he’s ever had in a Phils uniform.

There is hope Rhys Hoskins can stay healthy and consistent, raking from the middle of the order and adding 30+ dingers of his own to the mix. Rhys’ long-term future with the team is uncertain, but for now, he’s a major part of what they do.

There is hope J.T. Realmuto can continue to play like the best catcher in baseball, a defensive whiz with a cannon arm and solid contributor at the plate. There’s no decline in J.T.’s game yet, and he’s no longer being counted on as the team’s No. 2 contributor on offense.

There is hope Jean Segura can hit close to .300 and continue to showcase his solid-to-excellent glove at second. There is hope his double play mate, Didi Gregorius, is past the injury issues that led to a down year at the plate and in the field last season.

There is hope the Phils’ defense overall will be better than expected, although that will need to be seen to be believed, first.

There is hope Bryson Stott will be the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2022. He’ll certainly get an opportunity to play just about every day, whether it’s a third base, shortstop, or second. His 13 hits this spring were second-most on the team and his 1.076 OPS was third, behind Harper and Moniak. He made all the plays at all three positions while down in Clearwater and looked like he’d been in big league camp for the last 10 years.

There is hope he will not be a busted first round pick.

There is hope another former first rounder, Alec Bohm, can figure things out. There is hope he’ll rediscover the stroke that allowed him to finish 2nd in the NL ROY voting two seasons ago in which he hit .338/.400/.481, and hope infield coach Bobby Dickerson is having a positive impact on his ability to at least field his position competently.

There is hope a third, first round pick, the 2016 No. 1 overall selection Mickey Moniak, can come back from a most unfortunate injury, hit on the wrist by a pitch in the team’s final game of the spring. He’ll miss 6-8 weeks, throwing a monkey wrench into a revelatory spring in which he finished second on the team in home runs (6) and slugged a ridiculous .973. There is hope Matt Vierling can be a productive everyday starter until Moniak and/or Odubel Herrera (ugh) return and build upon an encouraging cameo appearance in the big leagues last season.

There is hope new hitting coach Kevin Long is as good as his reputation precedes him, and that the spring we saw from all the Phils’ young hitters is for real.

There is hope Zack Wheeler will repeat his Cy Young caliber season from a year ago and remain one of the five best pitchers in the National League this year. It’s hard to imagine a playoff berth without it.

There is hope Aaron Nola’s aberrant 2021 was simply a lost season, a la Cole Hamels’ 2009, and that Nola returns as one of the league’s very best in ‘22. The stuff and velocity are all still there.

There is hope Ranger Suarez is a rare Phillies’ farm system pitching success, a guy who was, quite simply, one of the best pitchers in baseball last year. No one should expect an ERA under 2.00, and probably not an ERA under 3.00, but the hope is Suarez is a competent, stable, reliable arm in the No. 3 spot in the rotation.

There is hope Zach Eflin is truly healthy and can maintain more than one month of consistent, above average starting pitching. There is hope his fellow ground ball specialist, Kyle Gibson, is more like the Texas version of himself, an All Star a season ago, rather than the guy who gave up a ton of homers upon his arrival in Philadelphia at the trade deadline.

There is hope Cristopher Sanchez, Bailey Falter, and others in the organization can take steps forward and provide the team with the starting pitching depth no one thinks they have right now. There is hope Caleb Cotham can help develop them at the big league level and polish more diamonds in the rough.

There is hope the bullpen will be better. Corey Knebel could be a dominant closer, the Phils like something in Jeurys Familia’s delivery, they think Brad Hand can be an effective lefty set-up guy, and they hope Seranthony Dominguez’ recovery from Tommy John surgery is complete. The entire bullpen, outside of Connor Brogdon, pitched well this spring, but as everyone knows, the Phils bullpen is always a potential tire fire.

There is hope Joe Girardi can embrace the young players, not rely on middling veterans, and give the Phillies a tactical advantage from the dugout. The failure to secure a playoff spot likely means his ouster.

There is hope the law of averages says the Phillies finally figure out a way to reach the playoffs in 2022. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since they played bonus baseball, but this is the best team they’ve assembled since that 102-win 2011 squad, and there is hope team president Dave Dombrowski, general manager Sam Fuld and team owner John Middleton won’t stop adding to the team at the trade deadline if they’re in the hunt. They’ve come too far not to.

With Opening Day upon us, there is hope for every team in Major League Baseball. OK, maybe not the A’s, but there is hope that, like the ‘93 Phillies, maybe team chemistry will allow certain players to play beyond the capabilities they’ve displayed before, that young players would develop more quickly than anticipated, that everyone will stay mostly healthy, and that lady luck, the baseball gods, karma, or whatever you want to call it, will be on their side.

Opening Day is the perfect time for hope. So, hope away.