As Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association begin to work towards an agreement to resume play, it appears likely that the baseball season will be somewhere around 82 games. Just a tick over half of a major league season, the number of games might make for a very different outcome for teams like the Phillies. We turn back the clock just under a year ago to consider what 82 games meant in 2019 and what they might mean in 2020.
The Standings at 82 Games in 2019
Game 82 took place for the Phillies on June 28. Here is how the Phillies fared in the National League East after all teams played 82:
The Atlanta Braves had a sizable lead against the Phillies. However, the Phillies were still ahead of the Washington Nationals, the eventual World Series Champion. But would the Nationals have made the playoffs at all? Would the Phillies?
Under the 2019 MLB Playoff arrangement, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, and the Chicago Cubs would have been division winners. The Phillies, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Colorado Rockies would have been the Wild Cards:
That means there would have been no playoffs for the Milwaukee Brewers and the Washington Nationals, the eventual World Series Champions.
Under some proposals, the playoffs could expand to 14 teams, with four Wild Card berths in both leagues. That would mean that the San Diego Padres would be the fourth and final wild card at 42-40. The Washington Nationals would have missed out at 41-41.
Advantages for the Phillies: Rotation Health
Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta did not make it through the entire 2019 season. On June 25, Arrieta pitched for the last time. At that point, he was still pitching every day. Arrieta would have closed the regular season 7-6 with a 4.33 earned run average. That might not have been stellar, but it would have been helpful for him.
Arrieta would make eight more starts for the Phillies, though there was a clear decline. When pitching until at least the sixth inning, the Phillies had a much better chance to win. However, Arrieta was not the same during the month of July and into August, when his season ended.
Rhys Hoskins Would Not Have Slumped Badly Yet
At the 82-game mark, first baseman Rhys Hoskins was batting .266. At that point, Hoskins had 18 home runs and sported an OPS of .921. Hoskins would hit .161 in August and .170 in September, contributing the Phillies fading out of the playoff race. Hoskins batted .244 in July, where he would not have had as big of a falloff.
Jay Bruce in his Prime
When Jay Bruce joined the Phillies, he went on a home run tear. Bruce played 19 games beyond the 82-game mark, and they were some of his most productive, before heading to the injured list after July 16th's game. The Phillies would have ridden Bruce's hot bat into the playoffs.
Aaron Nola Was Becoming Dominant Again
It's easy to remember that Phillies ace Aaron Nola struggled out of the gate. A devilish 6.66 earned run average for Nola was out of character. But Nola would be strongest in July and August, in which he had a consistent 2.52 earned run average each month. Nola's first July start was arguably his most dominant; he went eight innings against Atlanta, not surrendering a run. Could that have been the first playoff game for the Phillies?
Segura Awoke from a Slump
Much was made about how Phillies shortstop Jean Segura struggled after the injury to Andrew McCutchen. Segura felt badly about it and at the same time lost a dynamic leadoff hitter in front of him. But July was a different story for Segura.
Segura's most productive month was July, when he batted .346. With the Phillies season reaching its 82nd game after June, this would have been the right time to get hot.
The Phillies ended up piecing together a bullpen down the stretch, adding Mike Morin, Blake Parker and Jared Hughes. The Phillies often had rookies Edgar Garcia and J.D. Hammer pitching in big moments. But the Phillies had the emerging Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan was still pitching well in the bullpen. That said, there was little beyond Hector Neris. It's hard to say that the Phillies were better-suited in the bullpen after 82, but it might have been a wash.
Had the season in 2019 ended at 82 games, the Phillies would have been a Wild Card winner. With Aaron Nola pitching the Wild Card game, there's a real chance that the Phillies could have won a one-game playoff. However, would the Phillies have stumbled down the stretch? Were the struggles related to the aforementioned issues or was it the leadership?
The Phillies ultimately fired Gabe Kapler after 162 games. Would they have fired him if there were 82? It's fun to think about.