Phillies 2017 Season Preview
The Phillies close Grapefruit League action on Friday and then will head north to Philadelphia. Since there are no more "On Deck" games this season, the next time the Phillies take the fie will be Monday in Cincinnati. Here is a comprehensive look at the upcoming 2017 Phillies season.
National League East
The Atlanta Braves have a new look, adding veterans Brandon Phillips, Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey. But like the Phillies, the Braves are a rebuilding team. The Braves will introduce top prospect Dansby Swanson while having veterans in place to create some stability. But the newest acquisition is Sun Trust Park, creating a new buzz to the North.
Overall outlook: The Braves have a way to go, but should be a fun team in their new ballpark
Down in Miami, the Marlins are still reeling from the loss of their dear friend, Jose Fernandez. Dealing with the loss of a beloved teammate is hard enough, but on the baseball side of things, the Marlins lost one of the top pitchers in the game. The Marlins cannot replace Fernandez the person, but replacing Fernandez the player is also a tall task. The Marlins focused on their bullpen this offseason, adding veterans Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to go with new starter Edinson Volquez.
Overall outlook: Giancarlo Stanton should be his old self, but the Marlins are probably a middle of the road team.
The New York Mets re-signed their top offensive force in Yoenis Cespedes. But after trading for outfielder Jay Bruce last season, the Mets outfield is very imbalanced. Curtis Granderson has to play center field out of necessity, as the Mets could not turn around and further trade Bruce. Starter Steven Matz will miss the start of the season with injury, and Zach Wheeler will reappear, though no one really knows what to expect. Jeurys Familia will open the season serving a 15-game suspension for inappropriate behavior (though MLB President Rob Manifred seemed to rule out domestic violence).
Overall outlook: the Mets are likely to compete for the National League East. The team certainly has some questions, but so do the Nationals.
Down in the Nation's Capital, the Washington Nationals are probably a slight favorite to win the National League East. It is easy to like their starting pitching, which includes ace Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross, and Tanner Roark. There only two real questions: closer and first base. Ryan Zimmerman is not his old self and the Nationals failed to replace their closer position (last year held by Jonathan Papelbon and then Mark Melancon). Blake Treinen will get the first shot to close after two solid seasons in the Nationals bullpen. It certainly cost them a fortune, but the Nationals enhanced their outfield with Adam Eaton.
Overall outlook: The Nationals still have some prospects and financial ability to acquire a closer or other bullpen help if necessary. I give the Nationals the edge to win the National League East.
Where do the Phillies fit in?
Starting rotation: The Opening Day rotation of Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez looks pretty stable to begin 2017. Some questions still remain about Nola's elbow that shut him down last season down the stretch. But the Phillies have promising help at Triple-A in Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin. Also at Triple-A to help in case of injury or trade is Mark Appel, Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta.
The Phillies will look to trade Hellickson or Buchholz down the stretch. If either pitches really poorly or the Phillies really need a rotation, the Phillies could simply cut either player and eat the money. But remember, last season Charlie Morton made just four starts before a season-ending injury. Unlike last season, this year the Phillies will have a ready pitcher to replace him.
Starting Lineup: 11 months ago the Phillies fielded a lineup that featured Emmanuel Burriss as the starting left fielder batting seventh. Peter Bourjos was in right field batting ninth. The pitcher batted eighth. The acquisitions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders change things dramatically.
Cesar Hernandez learned a lot last season about getting on base and will lead off, with Kendrick hitting behind him. Saunders will be a left-handed bat to provide balance between Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp. Freddy Galvis, who did not get on base a ton but hit 20 home runs, will bat eighth. This is a tremendous improvement over 2016.
The Phillies bullpen will also be greatly improved. While the Phillies do not have a lock-down traditional closer, Jeanmar Gomez will get the first chance to be the club's closer. Gomez traditionally is a 3.00-type pitcher who does not get blown up on the mound too much. That means if he surrenders one run every three innings on average he will have no problem pitching the ninth inning and the additional depth the Phillies have means he will not be as overworked.
Behind Gomez is a more-seasoned Hector Neris who will also not be overworked with the additions of Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit. Edubray Ramos gets an opportunity to ease into a bullpen. On the left side, Joely Rodriguez has showed great promise, and Adam Morgan will have the chance to show he belongs in the bullpen. If he is getting three outs and not 18, Morgan may show he can excel.
Last season the Phillies opened with a bullpen that included David Hernandez, James Russell, Daniel Stumpf, Dalier Hinojosa, and Brett Oberholtzer. The bullpen immediately began imploding. With only Neris and Gomez remaining from the 2016 Opening Day mess, the Phillies will function much, much better.
The Phillies bench is also improved. Carlos Ruiz no longer will be the catcher that supplements Rupp behind the plate. Aaron Altherr can fill in playing all three outfield positions very capably and has some tools that will become helpful. The primary pinch hitter will be Daniel Nava instead of Darin Ruf, who earned an early demotion last season. Andrew Knapp needs to grow, but has always shown he can use his bat. Andres Blanco is going to be his usual steady force. Brock Stassi will be able to show he can start against some right-handed pitching.
Overall outlook: The Phillies will repeat 2016 in a few ways. First, I think the Phillies will hold it together early and be a surprise team. Maybe, like last year, they can share first place for an evening. But heading down the stretch, the Phillies will once again have a turnover of sorts. Younger players will head to the big league club and veterans will depart.