Philadelphia Phillies Series Preview: 8/3 to 8/6

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Let’s try this again. After postponement last week because of COVID-19 outbreak concerns, the Yankees (7-1) and Phillies (1-2) will play two in the Bronx and two in Philadelphia this week. Get ready to see some very familiar faces over the next few days. Most notably, Joe Girardi and Didi Gregorius. Andrew McCutchen too, although those ties aren’t as strong as what Girardi and Gregorius left behind.

As you know, Girardi was at the helm for ten years, highlighted by the 2009 championship season. Gregorius rather smoothly succeeded Derek Jeter at shortstop and became a fan favorite quickly. It would have been nice to see Girardi and Gregorius get a well deserved standing ovation back in the Bronx for the first time. Alas, stadiums are empty in 2020 for good reason. In any case, it’s going to be really weird to see them in Phillies uniforms.

Their story so far

The Phillies stumbled out of the gate and lost two of three to the Marlins before their season was put on hold. It’s definitely not what you want, but on the bright side, Miami’s COVID-19 outbreak apparently did not result in an outbreak within the Phillies clubhouse. The lone game Girardi’s team won was Saturday the 25th, which was also Zack Wheeler’s debut. He threw seven strong innings and will pitch in the Bronx this week. More on that in a bit.

Before that W, the Phils dropped its opener against the Marlins, 5-2. Sandy Alcantara and the Marlins bullpen shut down the Phillies, though things were even at one a piece before Aaron Nola unraveled in the sixth inning. Last Sunday, Miami won the rubber game by outslugging Philadelphia, 11-6.

Even in a short season, it’s way too early to read into a poor performance against an inferior Marlins team. That said, the Phillies don’t appear to be quite deep enough to be true contenders this year. The team’s biggest problem is its bullpen, as I outlined in the NL East Preview. For what it’s worth, PECOTA projects Philadelphia to finish 28-32, fourth place in the NL East.

Injury Report

  • RHP Ranger Suárez is on the COVID-19 injured list. He was good, albeit not great, in Philly’s bullpen last year (3.14 ERA/3.89 FIP in 48 2/3 innings).
  • Old friend RHP David Robertson hopes to return in September. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he had last August. That seems like a pretty aggressive return date, though it makes sense why he wants to get back. Philadelphia has $2 million buyout on a $12 million 2021 salary, so he’s probably going to be a free agent regardless of his return and will want to show something entering the winter.
  • RHP Seranthony Domínguez will have Tommy John surgery soon and is out for the year.

Spotlight: J.T. Realmuto

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29 year-old J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball at the moment. This is his second and potentially final year with the Phillies. He’s a free agent this offseason and he’s gonna get paid. Realmuto is the rare backstop who can hit and defend at elite levels.

Realmuto hit .275/.328/.493 (108 wRC+) with 25 homers last year and should put up similar rate stats this season. On the surface, those numbers sound good but not great. That’s until you consider that it’s coming from the catcher position, of course. Last year, the average catcher posted an 85 wRC+ (friendly reminder: this is why Gary Sánchez is so valuable!).

Catcher defense has become all the rage over the last decade or so with the increased focus on pitch framing. Realmuto is very good in this regard (top ten at Baseball Prospectus and Statcast in 2019), but it’s not the only place he shines. Baseball Prospectus has a slew of catcher defense stats aside from framing, and Realmuto is elite in those respects. He was the top thrower behind the dish (also quickest poptime per Statcast, for what it’s worth) and was fourth in blocking pitches.

Enough droning on about Realmuto’s excellence. The real reason I wanted to profile him is because I was caught off guard looking at his stats against Gerrit Cole, who starts tonight. Realmuto is 10-for-14 (.714) with a homer and just two strikeouts against the Yankees’ ace. I know that batter vs. pitcher stats aren’t statistically prective, but I couldn’t help but do a double take. So, I had to look deeper into what was going on here.

Perhaps I should have realized this at first glance, but these numbers didn’t come against the Cole we know and love today. These two have only faced off when Cole was on the Pirates. In other words, before the Astros did their magic and made Cole a monster. Realmuto probably won’t like what he sees this time around.

Projected Lineup

Here’s the Roster Resource projected lineup along with projected wRC+ and DRC+ per ZiPS and PECOTA, respectively:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF (114 wRC+, 119 DRC+)
  2. Rhys Hoskins, 1B (121 wRC+, 130 DRC+)
  3. Bryce Harper, RF (129 wRC+, 138 DRC+)
  4. J.T. Realmuto, C (110 wRC+, 113 DRC+)
  5. Didi Gregorius, SS (106 wRC+, 94 DRC+)
  6. Jean Segura, 3B (98 wRC+, 96 DRC+)
  7. Jay Bruce, DH (104 wRC+, 90 DRC+)
  8. Scott Kingery, 2B (82 wRC+, 79 DRC+)
  9. Roman Quinn, CF (76 wRC+, 82 DRC+)

Girardi swapped out Bruce in favor for Phil Gosselin at DH against Marlins’ lefty and former Yankee Caleb Smith, so maybe we’ll see him against Happ and/or Montgomery. The Phils also have Neil Walker, Kyle Garlick, Adam Haseley, and Andrew Knapp on the bench.

Probable Pitchers

It’s not quite clear who all of the probable pitchers are for this week (at least not yet). Tonight’s matchup is set in stone, though the rest of the week isn’t certain from the Phillies’ perspective. I’m going off what I anticipate and will reorder things once we hear more.

Tonight (7:05 p.m. EDT in New York): Gerrit Cole (vs. Phillies) vs. Jake Arrieta (vs. Yankees)

Arrieta’s no longer a dominant force like he was for the Cubs roughly five years ago. He owns a 4.26 ERA in 55 starts for the Phillies since he signed a $75 million deal to join the club prior to the 2018 season. Tonight will be his first regular season start since he had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow last August.

Arrieta.

He’s become rather sinker-reliant as he’s lost velocity in the past few years. While still in Chicago, Arrieta sat around 95 MPH, but that was down to 92.5 last season.

Cole is set for his third start for the Yankees and his first at Yankee Stadium. He was very good against the Orioles last week, though I’d argue he’s still trying to fine tune his fastball command. It’s fun to think that Cole, who has a 3.09 ERA in 11 2/3 innings thus far, isn’t quite humming yet. He’ll get there.

Tuesday (6:05 p.m. EDT in New York): JA Happ (vs. Phillies) vs. Aaron Nola (vs. Yankees)

Staff ace Nola was hot and cold on Opening Day. He retired the first seven Marlins he faced and allowed just one run through five innings. Things fell apart in the sixth, however. He departed down 3-1 with one out and was ultimately charged with four runs allowed due to an inherited runner scoring. This lackluster performance is on the tail of a rough September to close 2019 (6.51 ERA in 27 2/3 innings).

Nola.

Poor finish to 2019 and poor start to 2020 aside, Nola has been a rotational stalwart for a few years now. The 27 year-old righty owns a lifetime 3.51 ERA (121 ERA+) in 128 starts. He leans on his curveball quite a bit (35.2 percent usage last year, barely behind his fastball which was at 35.4 percent). Expect to see plenty of yakkers against this righty-heavy Yankees lineup.

Now, for the Yankees side. JA Happ is coming off a rough start in Baltimore in which he allowed four runs in four innings pitched. He gave up his requisite two homers, too. This Phillies’ lineup is quite a bit better than that Orioles lineup he faced, so this could be trouble for the veteran lefty.

Wednesday (7:05 p.m. EDT in Philadelphia): Jordan Montgomery (vs. Phillies) vs. Zack Wheeler (vs. Yankees)

Wheeler didn’t disappoint in his first outing for the Phils. The former Met, who just signed a $118 million deal in the winter, made easy work of the Marlins on Saturday. He allowed just one run in seven innings and fanned four batters. Last year, he faced the Yankees twice: he got knocked around at Yankee Stadium in June but rebounded for a quality start the following month at Citi Field. For what it’s worth, those lineups didn’t include Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

Wheeler.

Wheeler possesses a blazing fastball and has solid breaking ball offerings, yet isn’t always overpowering. His whiff and strikeout rates aren’t terribly impressive for someone with his stuff, though Wheeler does generate a good deal of ground balls from his sinker.

Jordan Montgomery looked awfully good in his debut against Boston, huh? His 5 2/3 innings of one run ball came off strong spring training and summer camp performances. Another good performance here would really be a boon to this pitching staff, especially because James Paxton hasn’t been himself yet.

Thursday (6:05 p.m. EDT in Philadelphia) Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Phillies) vs. Vince Velazquez (vs. Yankees) or Zach Eflin (vs. Yankees)

Velazquez is a bit of an enigma on the mound. He’s got terrific stuff, but hitters absolutely pummel the ball against him. VV allowed 26 homers in just 117 1/3 innings last year (almost two per nine!) and surrendered two dingers in his first start this year against the Marlins.

Velazquez.

If it’s not Velazquez, it’ll be Eflin. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Eflin would fit in with a bunch of the Yankees’ giants. The 26 year-old righty has been in-and-out of Philly’s rotation over the past few years, but really became a mainstay last year when he posted a 4.13 ERA (109 ERA+) in 163 1/3 innings. Eflin’s biggest weakness is his propensity for the longball (1.55 HR/9 for his career), even though he grades pretty highly in terms of soft contact.

Eflin.

Masahiro Tanaka is lined up for the series finale. He was on a pitch count in his debut over the weekend, but did a nice job no less. He fell one out short of completing three innings against Boston, allowed four hits, two runs (one earned), walked one, and struck out three. And in case you missed it, Bobby wrote a nice piece about Tanaka’s splitter over the weekend.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Héctor Neris (closer), Nick Pivetta, Tommy Hunter, Trevor Kelley, Reggie McClain, Ramón Rosso, Deolis Guerra

LHP: Adam Morgan, José Álvarez, Cole Irvin, Austin Davis

Per Fangraphs’ positional power rankings, the Phillies’ bullpen is 18th out of 30 teams. Not great! In a grim way, at least yesterday’s postponement allowed for a day of rest after needing six bullpen innings on Sunday.

Neris is the team’s most prominent relief arm. He’s got a big time fastball and splitter combination, though he’s got a propensity to give up the long ball. Last year was his best season: he had a 2.93 ERA in 67 2/3 innings, fanned 32.4 percent of batters, and recorded 28 saves in 34 chances. Some combination of Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, and José Álvarez are the bridge to Neris.


The Yankees are rolling and it’s hard to expect anything other than a series win at this point. Asking for a four game sweep is a bit much, primarily because Happ starts one of the games. But if Aaron Judge keeps socking dingers and the rest of the offense does its thing, nothing’s out of the realm of possibilities here.

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1 Comment

  1. Gerreddardit Cole

    This series scares the hell out of me, Derek. One reason is Philly likely still has the virus circulating their clubhouse. A negative test today don’t mean anything tomorrow. The other is they have Girardi, who has been working them like an army general this past week so they won’t be rusty. And he along with Didi are out for revenge. This is their World Series. I think we’re looking at a split at best winning the Cole and Monty starts and losing the other two. Happ will serve up a few dingers. Tanaka isn’t himself yet. Judge can only do so much and now Stanton has cooled off.

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