It feels like a right of passage for Philadelphia fans.
At the end of every season, we look back and bemoan what went wrong, and go over all the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s, but for however negative we may be perceived, we certainly are an optimistic bunch.

For as quickly as we whine about the season that just ended, we just as quickly begin talking about why next season will be different, and why that’s our year.

It’s no different for Philadelphia Phillies fans. Maybe this overwhelming sense of positivity is due to the old saying “hope springs eternal” which rings true for baseball more than any other sport.

There’s no getting around it: 2020 was a disaster for the Phillies.

It’s depressing watching the World Series with them not in it again, but for as bad as the season was, there is reason for hope going into the offseason.

Photo: Nick Wass/AP

First, the offense was great this year and should be even better in 2021. Last season, the Phillies were near the top in many offensive categories across the major leagues – 9th in average (.257), 3rd in on-base percentage (.342), 10th in slugging (.439), 5th in runs (306), 11th in home runs (82), and 8th in stolen bases (35).

I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty worthy of a playoff team. Bryce Harper was an early MVP candidate with how he carried this team through the first month of the season. Alec Bohm could be the National League Rookie of the Year and looks to be the best offensive prospect the Phillies have had in over ten years. Rhys Hoskins, coming off of elbow surgery, is facing a make or break year for him, and he actually turned it on during the stretch, hitting .286 over his last 15 games. Scott Kingery has to be better than he was last season, it’s almost impossible for him to be worse. Yes, there are big question marks surrounding the return of J.T. Realmuto (more on that later) and Didi Gregorius, but the Phillies have the pieces in place to be another top offensive team in 2021.

The starting rotation is shaping up to be formidable, at least at the top.

Phillies starters were 10th in baseball with a 4.08 ERA, led by Zack Wheeler (2.92) and Aaron Nola (3.28). Zach Eflin made huge strides this season, and Spencer Howard figures to be prominently featured in the rotation after getting some experience this season. Gone – or will be gone – are the dead weights of Nick Pivetta and Jake Arrieta. Vince Velasquez should ideally move to the bullpen full time. The team definitely needs to address the back end of the rotation, whether through free agency or in-house. However, their rotation, like their offense, should be enough to propel them into the playoffs.

That brings us to the bullpen. O, boy.

What an absolute failure the bullpen was in 2020. A Major League worst 7.06 ERA. A Major League worst 1.79 WHIP. A Major League worst .315 batting average against. It’s not good when you’re the worst in so many of these categories. The good news? It can’t get much worse than this.

While the entire bullpen should be revamped, that’s not going to happen. Instead, the team is going to rely on bounce back years from the majority of the relievers, and make two-three additions to try and fix it. And there’s help out there. Guys like Sean Doolittle, Steve Cishek, Liam Hendricks, Kirby Yates, Alex Colome, and Keone Kela are all set to become free agents. The Phillies would be wise to sign at least one of these group, preferably two.

How could they do that? A certain catcher, who’s supposedly asking for a contract north of $200 million, might not be on the team next season.

Look, I want Realmuto back as much as the next guy. Maybe not as much as Harper, but it’s close.

Is it worth it at the expense of a $200 million plus contract, especially when there are so many other holes to fill? I’m not so sure of that, even though they should have enough money to sign JT and address other areas, but we’ll have to look more in depth at this on another day. But it’s certainly worth thinking about. The point is, if they fail to re-sign Realmuto, more money is available to address the struggling pen.

If the bullpen was even marginally better this past season, the Phillies would have been in the playoffs. The front office will certainly do everything they can to make sure that’s not the problem again in 2021.

If all else fails, there’s the chance we have expanded playoffs again moving forward. It’s not a done deal, but it’s hard to imagine baseball and the player’s association reducing the number of playoff teams after this season when more teams mean more money for the clubs. Before you say it, I know, the Phillies didn’t make the playoffs this year with the expansion.

With a few tweaks, they are more than capable of making expanded playoffs – or even the normal ten-team playoff – next season.
After all, 2021 has to be our year.

Featured Image: Nick Wass/AP
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