A disappointing Phillies season draws to a close – disappointing is a huge understatement – and the team will once again find themselves on the outside looking in come October.
And while a lot of fans are talking doom and gloom and dwelling on all of the negatives this year, there were quite a few positives that should give even the most pessimistic of fans hope that 2020 will be the year the Phillies are finally playing baseball in October once more.
First, Bryce Harper more than lived up to the expectations. Not only did he have a 30+ home run season, but he also crossed the 100 RBI mark for the second time in his career, posting a career-high wherever he finishes at the end of the season next week.
His defense has been better than advertised, and he currently leads all of the right fielders in Major League Baseball in outfield assists with 12. For a guy who has always been knocked for his defense, that’s a great accomplishment.
Harper has also shown the epitome of hustle, running hard on virtually every hit ball. His style and attitude fit in perfectly with the Philly culture, spawning shirts (the Phanatic/Gritty Pulp Fiction shirt he wore on Opening Day), his Phanatic cleats, and the Phanatic headbands you see all over Citizens Bank Park now. The Phillies have more than got their money’s worth out of Harper in year one. Having him anchor the outfield for the next twelve seasons is enough to give any fan hope.
Then there’s the best catcher in baseball, J.T. Realmuto. The man has been an absolute workhorse behind the plate, catching more innings than anyone else (1,097.1). And for whatever reason, players continue to run on him, and he continues to throw them out. He’s caught 43 guys stealing, almost 20 more than the next best catcher.
He has one year left on his contract before becoming a free agent after the 2020 season. It seems almost guaranteed that the Phillies will lock him up to a long-term contract this offseason. With J.T. behind the dish and Harper in right, fans should be happy that two key building blocks should be in red pinstripes for a long time to come.
Which brings us to the next reason for optimism: the offense can’t be nearly as bad as they were this season. Harper, for as good as the final numbers will be, struggled mightily in the beginning of the season. Rhys Hoskins has been slumping since the All-Star break. Jean Segura has had a down year by his standards. Third base has been a black hole almost all season long in terms of offensive production. There are too many good players on this lineup to play this poorly again. Expect an improvement.
Andrew McCutchen will be recovered from his ACL injury and back in the starting lineup. He was arguably the heart and soul of this team before he was hurt, and the team’s downward spiral coincided with his injury. Coincidence? I think not. Having Cutch in the leadoff spot really set the tone for the rest of the offense. If he stays healthy for all of 2020, Phillies fans will have reason to hope.
If you’re looking for another reason to be optimistic about the 2020 season, how about the fact that the Phillies have plenty of money available to sign multiple free agents this offseason? Gerrit Cole. Madison Bumgarner. Cole Hamels. Anthony Rendon. All of these players and more are available, and all fill huge holes in the Phillies roster. The Phillies front office will be very active this offseason and will be making moves to improve this team for 2020 and beyond.
But what could be the biggest move they make, and the biggest reason to be optimistic about the 2020 season, is the removal of the entire coaching staff.
It started this season when John Mallee was fired and Charlie Manuel took over the hitting coach duties last month. But Charlie is only in the position temporarily, and fresh blood should hopefully reinvigorate this offense.
Pitching coach Chris Young is surely going to be dismissed at the end of the season. Almost every single pitcher got worse under his tutelage this year. That kind of lack of production is unacceptable, and he’ll be let go.
And then there’s the manager, Gabe Kapler. Kapler has been an enemy of Phillies fans since Opening Day 2018 when he took a cruising Aaron Nola out of the game and the Phils lost. Since then, every decision Kapler has made has been criticized.
This year, while he has gotten better, he still makes way too many questionable decisions. It’s possible the team will end with a worse record this season than they did last year (80-82), and with the talent and money put into this team, that is completely unacceptable. He doesn’t add anything to this team, and fans should be looking forward to getting the news that Kapler has been let go. A new face can create a better, winning culture for this team, something they have sorely lacked during Kapler’s tenure. A new face might be just the thing they need to get them into the postseason in 2020.
So while fans can all commiserate over a 2019 season that went off the rails, they can go into the offseason and Spring Training excited that there are many reasons to be optimistic of why 2020 will be the Phillies year.
Photo: via Twitter