The Phillies were widely regarded to have had one of the best off-seasons in baseball. Heading into the 2023 season, Dave Dombrowski added perhaps the game’s best shortstop, added depth to the starting rotation, compiled some good bench pieces as well as a bunch of relievers making what should be one of the five best bullpens in the sport.
First impressions by the new guys in Texas were suboptimal.
It goes without saying 3/162nds of a baseball season does not a large sample size make. There is a ton of ball yet to be played, and despite being the only team in the National League to get swept this weekend (outscored by 18 runs, but who’s counting?) there is still a long way to go before anyone should be concerned for any reason other than to make jokes on Twitter.
Remember 2019 and 2021 when the Phillies swept the Braves in the opening series of the season, only to watch as Atlanta passed by them rather easily and won the division while the Phils sat out the postseason both times. This rough stumble is not a death knell, but starting 0-3 by the combined score of 29-11 also isn’t nothing, and much of that is due to a rough first showing by most of the newcomers.
Trea Turner is in the minority here, picking up right where he left off in the World Baseball Classic with a team-high five hits in 13 ABs, including two triples and a double, hitting .385. He doesn’t have a stolen base yet, but it’s pretty hard to steal third and home after doubles and triples, so maybe we give him a small pass for that.
Jake Cave was all the rage after a spring in which he smashed 3 HRs and put up a 1.327 OPS in 52 ABs, but it was a rough go in his two starts on Thursday and Saturday, 0-for-7 with a walk and three strikeouts, although he did hit a couple balls hard with nothing to show for it. Josh Harrison has a hit in five plate appearances so far, with one of those at-bats a ground ball double play. But the most egregious moment of the weekend was his performance on the mound, allowing all three inherited runners to score. Unconscionable!
I kid, of course, because there is no way Harrison should have had to be used in the second game of the season, but the guy he tried to clean up for, new reliever Craig Kimbrel, recorded just one out in Saturday’s blowout loss and loaded the bases with two walks and a hit in his Phillies debut. He was charged for all three runs when Harrison couldn’t shut the door.
Gregory Soto’s Phils debut went even worse. Tasked with taking over for Aaron Nola in the 4th inning on Opening Day, he couldn’t stop the bleeding after Nola had blown a 5-0 lead, and struggling to find the plate (although he was squeezed a bit by the home plate umpire). His inning went: walk-single-steal-walk-RBI single. Connor Brogdon allowed all of his inherited runners to score, too, as Soto finished the game with an ERA of infinity.
To be fair, Soto looked outstanding in a 1-2-3 inning on Sunday night, and my guess is that’s the version we’ll see more often than not this year. Still, it’s going to be August until that ERA gets below 4.
The same can be said for Yunior Marte, who blew everyone away in spring training with his high-octane stuff in Clearwater. The only thing high octane about his first performance with the Phillies was how the balls responded off Texas bats following his pitches. He faced five batters, gave up two hits and a walk, one of them a dinger and his 27.00 ERA matches Soto’s. They’ve got some work to do.
Finally, there’s Cristian Pache, who was just added to the team via trade with Oakland the day before Opening Day. Pache was formerly a top prospect in baseball but hasn’t learned how to hit yet, so it was an interesting decision to start him in center field against the lefty Martin Perez, especially in light of how Rob Thomson and Dombrowski espoused confidence in Brandon Marsh’s ability to hit lefties.
In his career, Pache has a career .206/.257/.324 slash line against southpaws in 110 plate appearances, so it felt a little forced. In a game in which the Phils’ offense went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, Pache came to the plate with two runners on in each of his first three at-bats and stranded all six runners, an absolute killer in a one-run loss. No one wants to beat up on the 24-year-old kid after just one game, but if the Phillies truly want Marsh to be an everyday player, he has to play, you know, every day, and Pache is not ready to even be a platoon player against lefties.
Tonight, we get Taijuan Walker’s Phils debut against New York, with Matthew Strahm taking the hill in a makeshift “start” that will see the multi-inning reliever limited to 65-75 pitches. While one weekend in Texas is not nearly enough time to make any determinations on the value of the new players brought into the fold this year, it was an inauspicious start for all of them not named Trea Turner.
Keep your heads up, fellas. Better times are likely ahead.