This time last year, hardly anybody cared about the Phillies. And look at us now…
There hasn’t been a buzz like this around the Phils in a decade, but it’s a different kind of buzz. Back in 2008, everyone knew what to expect – they just didn’t know how much to expect. They didn’t know if their heroes could actually win a World Series, which, of course, they did.
This year, despite all the excitement and anticipation the Phillies have generated with their off-season moves, nobody knows what kind of year they will have.
Back in 2008, Phillies fans already knew about Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell and Cole Hamels because they came up through the farm system and they had been part of the lineup for a couple of years. Everyone – players and fans – knew how the team played together and what the batting order was going to be. They knew the player and they knew the person.
This year, the big names on the team, the ones the most responsible for the giddiness of Phillies fans, are all new and none of them were developed by the Phils in the minors.
We’ve seen enough of Bryce Harper over the years because he played for divisional rival Washington. And fans probably remember outfielder Andrew McCutchen from his All-Star days with Pittsburgh, but that was a few years ago.
But the other new faces? Last year, catcher J.T. Realmuto played for Miami, which lost more games, 98, than any other team in the National League. How many Marlins games were on national television? You knew Realmuto was an All-Star, ergo he must be good, but you’ve never really seen him play on a daily basis. You couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup.
That holds even more true for another All-Star acquisition, shortstop Jean Segura. He toiled away in Seattle the last couple of years, and there’s no further outpost in baseball than Seattle, at least if you live in Delaware. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jean Segura swing a bat or field a grounder, simply because I had no need or desire to watch the Seattle Mariners play, say, the Minnesota Vikings.
There are plenty of Phillies fans who can say the same, and that’s a big reason this season should be so much fun – just watching this team come together (or not) on the field and off of it.
For starters, you can make an educated guess as to what the batting order will be, and that’s an important part of being a fan – knowing who is going to bat when.
You know Segura will bat high in the order and Realmuto, Harper and Rhys Hoskins will make up the heart of the order, and then manager Gabe Kapler can fill in the rest with McCutchen and Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery and the rest.
Interesting point. Those fill-ins we just mentioned were in key batting spots at the top and in the heart of the order the last couple of seasons and now they’re at the bottom. That, as much as anything, tells you how much the Phillies have changed and improved.
It will also be interesting to see how Kapler handles all of this new talent. Last year, his first as a big-league manager, he was a mad scientist at times, using analytics and other voodoo to juggle lineups and batting orders and, most notably, the bullpen.
Will Kapler settle in on a lineup and stick with it? That’s what manager Charlie Manuel did back in 2008. With few exceptions, the same guys played the same positions and batted in the same spot night after night after night. And then Brad Lidge came in for the save.
You would think and hope that Kapler decides on his batting order and sticks with it and resists the urge to meddle because a computer program tells him to. He can replace Herrera with Roman Quinn or Nick Williams every once in a while, but find a starting nine and let them play.
Then and only then will we know what this team is really about. Right now, they’re just a bunch of strangers to us, and over the next several months we’ll find out if we’re going to be friends.