We are back once again with a 97.3 ESPN Phillies mailbag.  Each week we take your questions and answer them on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m.   Send your questions in at any time to @FrankKlose on Twitter.

Who was the bigger hire, Bryan Price or Joe Girardi?

This is a tough question to answer.  Is it possible to say, "both?"  There is one thing that both of them have in common: experience.  Both are highly respected and both should bring a lot to the Phillies.  But let's talk about what Bryan Price brings to the Phillies.

In Price, the Phillies add a veteran pitching coach.  Most recently the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Price was the team's pitching coach before under manager Dusty Baker.  Price also coached in Seattle (even alongside Larry Bowa for a season) and Arizona.

It was clear last season that Chris Young just did not have the same level of respect from the pitching staff that ousted Rick Kranitz did the year before.  Kranitz coached the NL East Champion Braves and the Phillies failed to make the playoffs.  While players were at times vocal about Young - Matt Gelb of the Athletic wrote a very eye-opening piece about the Young staff last season - early word around Phillies camp about Price is strong.

Vince Velasquez early on told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Price "knows what he's doing".   Zach Eflin expressed excitement about working with Price.   Aaron Nola says that "he knows how to run things" and is "not going to change how the game is played".

In other words, the Phillies pitching staff is confident.  After a rough 2019, this Phillies pitching staff seems confident, and a lot of that confident has come through their new pitching coach.    This was a strong hire by the Phillies.

With the tough task of playing the deep NL and AL East, what are the chances the Phillies can actually expect to be in the post season hunt?

This 60-game schedule is certainly unique, to say the least.  But the Phillies will head into the 2020 season with mostly the same schedule that the rest of the National League East has, minus a game or two since the schedule is unbalanced.  But the winner of this division is probably up for grabs, and much has to do with small sample size.

It might be easy to say, "The Phillies have to play the Yankees" and worry.  However, with only four games, how well the teams play could depend on pitching rotations.   The Phillies should send Aaron Nola to the mound for one of those.  Zach Wheeler could be another.  Didi Gregorius loves hitting at Yankee Stadium.   The Yankees will be without closer Aroldis Chapman, in all likelihood, thanks to a battle with COVID-19.

The Phillies could win the two games started by their top two pitchers.  And could they lose the games started before those, perhaps pitched by Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin?  Yeah.   But it would be tough to say that the Phillies will simply be steamrolled by the Yankees and it will hurt their chances of postseason contention.

The Rays are a good team.  Who will pitch those three games? For either team?  There's much up in the air.

It's easy to say that about any team.  The other teams in the National League East have their issues with a condensed season as well.  It's hard to say that the Phillies will be automatically out of any game.

MLB writer Jon Paul Morosi has a prediction: the Phillies will win the National League East and that Bryce Harper will give the Phillies an "MVP year."  He will run up the Rocky steps in a Joe Girardi jersey if the Phillies do not win.

I am not ready to declare anyone a division winner.  I think this season will unfold in many quirky and unexpected ways.  It will simply be too hard to call, and I definitely do not want to count the Phillies out.

How many innings pitched would you expect from Spencer Howard this season?

I think the Phillies will indeed bring top pitching prospect Spencer Howard into the major league fold as soon as a week into the season.  The Phillies have essentially seven starters heading into the season.  They will probably need to utilize all seven, and Howard will probably be one of them almost immediately.

Evenly dividing a 60-game season by five would net 12 starts. But we know it won't be that simple.  Zach Wheeler is probably going to miss a few days on the paternity list.  Zach Eflin has been battling back spasms.  That could leave the Phillies in need of help almost immediately behind Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.   Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta figure to get some starts, too.

I'll set the number at about nine or 10 starts and 45-50 innings.  I am being conservative here, averaging 5 innings a start.  I can see him having a tough start or two, and having a deeper start or two as well.  If the Phillies rotation is at full strength, Velasquez and Pivetta could piggyback other starters.

Remember, rookie pitchers often have some "first time around the league" success.  Before the league can make adjustments to Howard, his electric stuff could give the team a real boost.  I think they'll try to underexpose him by keeping him about five innings on average.

But Howard certainly will pitch plenty this season (relatively speaking).

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