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Phillies: Closing in on 2020’s Opening Night


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

While the schedule simultaneously says game one of ‘20 and late July, will the Philadelphia Phillies start Aaron Nola against the Miami Marlins under the lights? And did he have enough time to ramp up? Will Zack Wheeler be here or at the maternity ward, or will Zach Eflin’s balky back delay his first outing?    


One-of-a-kind Memories:

In Phillies history, July 24 is the first and only Opening Day beginning with a stretch drive to October. And it will stand apart from March and April starts like a lost continent due to nature's unpredictability: 102 contests shy of a full 162.    


“‘We Gonna Win' is a song of triumph; it represents my personal belief that with hard work, talent, and dedication; everything is possible. It's a one of a kind.” - Miri Ben-Ari

Every star absorbs energy from cheering spectators who appreciate talent. In baseball, the clutch knock or bomb leads to a standing ovation for and a cap tip from a feared hitter like Bryce Harper. But how will he handle an empty stadium at home or on the road? Punish the opposition!     

With no crowd judging every pitch, Vince Velasquez may benefit and could develop the confidence going forward to silence the boobirds more often than seasons past. Yes, I’m certain he’s heard he should be in the pen, and this is the opportunity to prove otherwise to his detractors.                   

Barring changes, broadcasters will hear a left fielder’s sneeze, plus the batter will catch the receiver’s movements and the infielders talking defense. Moreover, the players will hear color men like John Kruk pointing out mistakes and make immediate adjustments.                    

For instance, an MMA fighter heard a mistake he was committing from an announcer. And he won the bout due to that specific information.

Mic-wise, regulars probably won’t continuously wear one because you’d hear all their comments: even the ugly ones.  

Do you remember those cardboard cutouts in the stands for the Korean baseball contests?  Well, the Bank reportedly will also have them and already has canned crowd noise from Sony’s MLB The Show, plus viewers can hear it now during intrasquad games.     

JT Realmuto is too intense and will probably not play any differently with or without a full house. Besides, he came from the Marlins, and they had plenty of good seats available on game day. Plus he’s playing for a contract with, perhaps, virus-related exceptions.

Due to the pandemic, general manager Matt Klentak has a full plate just to field a team with the risks, the testing, and the uncertainties for not only 2020 but also 2021. And if the faithful are expecting business as usual, hold your fire because the front-office is making adjustments daily.               

Klentak isn’t immune from social distancing measures and mask-wearing situations as the head of many departmental directors. Ergo, numerous employees! And until things settle down a bit, the execs aren’t rushing to make expensive, long-term commitments; and their peers have the same concerns.    

To illustrate, are you ready to purchase a big-ticket item? No, you’ll wait until the current situation stabilizes, and decision-makers in the majors are doing just that with elite players like Realmuto. Plus managing partner John Middleton is claiming a $100 million loss this year.    

Testing free agency isn’t a given for Realmuto or a worry for the Phillies because neither side can see past the COVID-19 fog. And, presently, this is not a front-burner issue for the higher-ups, and even the All-Star catcher must realize the offer from Middleton could be higher in two months.        

Rotation Madness:

During the four-month delay, many starters had locations to throw bullpen sessions and have simulated games. So, some came to camp ready to ramp up to five innings or more for their first campaign performance depending on their available resources.     

Another wrinkle is the frequency of changing the ball in play. Unfortunately, Gerrit Cole gave up a comfortable ball in an intrasquad appearance for one he didn’t like: homer!    

To complicate matters, the coronavirus disrupted some stars from beginning camp with their teammates on July 1, but others are still arriving or opting-out of ‘20. So keep in mind, an unwanted roster change to the Phillies or a divisional rival can occur at any time.                         

According to CBSsports.com, the Fightins’ pitching order will be Nola, Jake Arrieta, Eflin and Velasquez for the first four contests --if accurate. But Eflin and Velasquez may switch if Eflin needs an extra day due to the back spasms he had recently.  

On July 18, Nola will face the Washington Nationals in the first of three exhibition games, and management expects him to reach 65 pitches: 4-5 frames. And he’ll start the opener against Miami at the Bank on July 24 for 5-6 innings and roughly 80-85 tosses.                 

While Wheeler (68 pitches) and Velasquez each went four frames on July 14, the Phillies may want Wheeler to start game five on July 28 against the New York Yankees.  My guess: He won’t miss a turn during his three-day paternity leave at July’s end and will face the Toronto Blue Jays away on Aug. 2.  

Pitching coach Bryan Price has stated Spencer Howard will toe the rubber at some point this summer. So, uniformed management could make a calendar-related change to the five slot after only 2-3 sub-par outings. Howard? 



Phillies, NL East: 14-Day Backup Plans for 2020




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James Finnegan

Right on the money!

Tal Venada


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