Whether this is a lost or found season, health will determine the Philadelphia Phillies fate, like injuries had reduced 2019 to a .500 record. But this 60-game adventure has the additional possibility of virus-related absences plus limited-preparation injuries.
Bridge to October:
Even though doctors have scientific knowledge, the Phillies and the other nine organizations in the National League East and the American League East must deal with the new challenges presented by COVID-19. Limited virus cases are 2020's luck!
IN OTHER WORDS:
“Science is about predictions based on predictable fact. Life is about surprises based on the unpredictable reality.” - Ori Hofmekler
For Mike Trout and Zack Wheeler, a first child will be a bittersweet experience because of the coronavirus. Either or both could opt out with concerns of infecting newborns and/or their wives. To illustrate, if either parent catches COVID-19, they would self-isolate for 14 days before seeing their baby.
While Trout has publicly agonized over this decision, Wheeler has also expressed concerns without mentioning the quarantine aspect. For the hurler, though, he may only miss his first start in the best case scenario. But the Fightins won’t have an off day until Aug. 3 after playing 10 consecutive days.
Keep in mind, Aaron Nola had to self-isolate for a week and test negative before joining the squad. But others must firstly quarantine for at least 14 days, provide two negative tests 24 hours apart, and pass the MLB intake protocols to join the team in summer training and/or the truncated campaign.
Many franchises have players who are a week back or 10-14 days behind the first camp arrivals. And while some had test results delayed due to the July 4 holiday, others had to quarantine because of contact with an infected person or having the virus.
For the red pinstripes, Nola, Hector Neris and Adam Haseley are a week behind their teammates, but that could mean only missing the first series against the Miami Marlins for Nola and Haseley. Meanwhile, Scott Kingery could be 10 days back, and Tommy Hunter might be two weeks behind.
Phillies players cleared to enter camp:
- Aaron Nola: July 8.
- Adam Haseley: July 8.
- Hector Neris: July 9.
Phillies players waiting for clearance:
- Scott Kingery: Must record a second negative test and an MLB intake protocol.
- Tommy Hunter: Must record two negative tests and an MLB intake protocol.
- Ranger Suarez: Must record two negative tests and an MLB intake protocol.
Nola could start the fifth game against the New York Yankees at the Bank, which would shorten his absence by four days. Then, he can follow Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Jake Arrieta in that order because Joe Girardi and Bryan Price want a fast start and have their four best arms facing the Yanks.
Phillies probable rotation:
- Marlins at home: Wheeler, Eflin and Velasquez.
- Yankees at home: Arrieta and Nola.
- Yankees in New York: Wheeler and Eflin.
Relievers require less time to be ready because they only pitch an inning or two: 15 to 30 pitches instead of 100 to 110. So, Neris like Nola will probably be part of the original 30-man roster on Opening Day, and he’ll probably be ready to close in --if not after-- the Miami series.
Against the Fish, the Phils could set up with Adam Morgan, Victor Arano and Jose Alvarez. Barring ineffectiveness, they could carry Robert Stock, Bud Norris and Blake Parker for late frames because Hunter will likely miss the first week. And Nick Pivetta, Cole Irvin and Enyel De Los Santos could begin in long relief.
While Hunter has recovered from his coronavirus symptoms, there has been no word on Suarez. Just a guess: He still has the virus and may miss the first two weeks of this shortened campaign. As for David Robertson, his projection was for July’s second-half to early August. Ergo, not ready to ramp up.
Until Haseley is ready in center field, Roman Quinn could start the first 5-7 contests, and Nick Williams could be a reserve outfielder if Haseley needs a week. But Quinn might take advantage of this opportunity to claim the position by producing hits and stolen bases out of the nine hole.
With Kingery behind by a week, Jean Segura can handle second base, and Alec Bohm can man the hot corner. Or one of two utility infielders making the club can fill in at the keystone for Kingery: Neil Walker, Josh Harrison and/or Logan Forsythe.
The Divisional Competition:
Unlike the IL (injured list), the COVID-19 IL is unpredictable with infectious degrees from no symptoms to hospitalization. And the best any local writer can do is offer an estimate because general manager Matt Klentak only provides slightly more. Ergo, minimal!
The Atlanta Braves could be without Freddie Freeman and new closer Will Smith until August. Apparently, Smith is asystematic, but he’ll need two negative tests and pass the MLB intake protocols, which could take 1-2 weeks before he possibly begins camp near season’s beginning.
In their rotation, Cole Hamels hasn’t pitched live batting practice yet, while some hurlers elsewhere have worked 3-6 innings during intrasquad games. Ergo, he like Nola could start 2020’s game five, but one difference is the former Phillies ace is returning after shoulder inflammation in spring training.
Freeman, meanwhile, still had the virus as of July 7 but was improving at home after having multiple symptoms. And since he must be symptom-free before passing two tests and the MLB intake protocol, he could miss 2-3 weeks of the abbreviated schedule.
With Nick Markakis opting out of ‘20, Austin Riley, Adam Duvall and Johan Camargo can platoon at first base until Freeman returns, but Riley or Camarago must also handle third base. So, Atlanta’s offense will be without Markakis and Josh Donaldson from ‘19 and Freeman perhaps through mid-August.
The Fightins will have four contests with Atlanta from Aug. 7-10 (games 14-17) after playing only four difficult matches out of their first 13. Fortunately, the first two of the Yankees matchups will be at home, and all four Braves contests will also be at the Bank.
The Washington Nationals won’t have first sacker Ryan Zimmerman and five-slot starter Joe Ross due to opting out. And although outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles are experiencing delays due to COVID-19, their conditions aren’t available beyond self-isolation. Yes, they could begin training just before or after July 23.
Closer Sean Doolittle has vocalized concerns about playing because his wife has a lung condition. And if he opts out, Daniel Hudson --who excelled after his trade here-- will close. However, he’s had an up-and-down career, so no organization wanted to sign him for two years except the reluctant Nats.
Closing will be problematic and critical for the four NL East contenders. And while Washington has two iffy possibilities due to the pandemic and an effectiveness concern, Atlanta was going with Mark Melancon, barring struggles. Now, they may have no choice until Smith is ready.
Although the New York Mets will be without Noah Syndergaard, they still have Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman. Meanwhile, relievers Brad Brach and Jared Hughes haven’t reported to camp, plus closing isn’t a Mets’ strength. As a Yankee, Dellin Betances couldn't close, plus Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia aren’t reliable.
While news --good or bad-- on David Robertson isn’t available, Neris will probably be ready because he only needs two weeks to ramp up from July 9. Yes, Neris will close until Robertson arrives, but the first 20 games will be manageable.
In those first 20, the Phillies will face the Yanks and Braves four times each with six here. And the other 12 contests will be against Miami (6), the Baltimore Orioles (3) and the Toronto Blue Jays (3): six at home. So, what is their 20-game potential if Atlanta is without Freeman for that first series? A solid winning record!