Schaller: Phillies baseball is back

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Phillies graphic. - Multimedia Editor / Drew Peltzman

The NFL season has come to an end, and the NBA and NHL seasons are in full swing, which means it’s time for America’s national pastime to step up to the plate; Philadelphia Phillies baseball is back in action.

Last season, the 2022 National League Champions came up short in their quest to return to the World Series, as they fell in the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games. 

Fortunately, the Phillies didn’t have many unrestricted free agents going into the offseason. Because of that, their main mission was to re-sign former All-Star right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola. Nola, a former first-round selection out of Louisiana State University (LSU) has played in Philadelphia for the entirety of his nine-year career. On Nov. 19, 2023, Nola and the Phillies agreed to a seven-year contract worth $172 million. With the signing of Nola, it is overwhelmingly likely that he will be a Phillie for life. The 30-year-old will remain towards the top of an underrated pitching rotation that includes, Zack Wheeler, Taijuan Walker, Ranger Suarez, and Christopher Sanchez. 

The Phillies’ starting lineup does not necessarily need another power bat, but it wouldn’t hurt to add some outfield insurance, a player such as Cody Bellinger or Adam Duvall. Throughout 2023, the weak position within the Phillies’ lineup was center field. While rookie center fielder Johan Rojas performed phenomenally in the field, he was unreliable at the plate, especially in the postseason. In the playoffs, he recorded just four hits in 43 at-bats. He would be more reliable coming off the bench for an occasional start, not an everyday player. 

Improving the bullpen is something that President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski needs to address urgently. Right-handed closer Craig Kimbrel walked in free agency and signed with the Baltimore Orioles, so he needs to be replaced after recording 23 saves in 2023. In my opinion, the course of action that needs to take place in this situation is trading for Cleveland Guardians’ closer Emmanuel Clase, however, the Guardians are asking for Phillies’ young outfield prospect Justin Crawford. Philadelphia will definitely need to work some Dombrowski magic in the offseason regarding their bullpen. 

Phillies fans endured heartbreak with the team letting go of fan-favorite first-baseman Rhys Hoskins, who signed a two-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers worth $34 million. While this was unfortunate news, his replacement at first base happens to be the face of the franchise; two-time National League MVP Bryce Harper.

The Phillies’ front office definitely made the correct decision with this one. Having Harper, who has publicly stated that he wants to play until the age of 45, play first base long-term will allow him to prolong his career compared to playing in the outfield. 

Looking ahead, Philadelphia will have even more competition in the National League this season. Their NL East rival, the Atlanta Braves, still have one of the most stacked lineups and pitching rotation in MLB. Another team the Phillies may cross paths with in the postseason is the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers had one of the most productive offseasons of all time, signing players like Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Teoscar Hernandez, and trading for starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow. However, the Dodgers have always been habitual in playoff letdowns, and the Phillies have had the Braves’ number for two years straight in October.   

Undoubtedly, a very important part of the Phillies’ success this season is being able to stay healthy. Last year, Rob Thompson’s team was without Bryce Harper for the first 36 games of the regular season, and they were still able to tread water and eventually make it to the NLCS. However, if Philadelphia is going to take a shot at the NL East crown, they are going to have to remain healthy throughout the year. 

Finally, it is imperative that Rob Thomson continues to be an exceptional manager. On June 3, 2022, the Phillies fired former World Series manager, Joe Girardi, and replaced him with bench coach Rob Thomson. Ever since that move, the Phillies have made the postseason in each of the past two seasons while winning 155 regular-season games in the process. Thomson has often been criticized for certain lineups that he rolls out, specifically having designated hitter Kyle Schwarber bat leadoff, but it has worked out for the team. Schwarber has 31 career leadoff home runs and has been a dangerous force out of the top spot.

The Phillies will open up their season at home on March 28, against their division rival, the Atlanta Braves at 3:05 p.m.

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