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Phillies: More-than-bargained-for 2021


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

The Philadelphia Phillies faithful had something to root for until Sept. 29: One fan will appreciate a meaningful game 158, while another will offer negative thinking on blast. But if the team went 2-3 in the National League Division Series, those locals would express a now deniable dissatisfaction. Expectations change, no?   


More but Less:

The Phillies gave us two ballgames with a playoff-like atmosphere, which is two more than many had expected in April. In August, though, talk was of a September collapse like the last three seasons. But could some unsurprisingly call this the usual “crash landing?”


“If a little is great, and a lot is better, then way too much is just about right!” - Mae West

Distinguishing ‘21 from the previous three campaigns isn’t far below the surface: minimal research. However, it would disprove the point some find effortlessly. Translation: A positive analytical sliver diminishes an unpleasant belief.        

To illustrate, the 2018 Phils played above their heads, and it couldn’t last. But it created a false interpretation of their ability. Realistically, they weren’t close to being a postseason franchise, and the fan base’s expectations drifted off base.                                        

The Bryce Harper signing increased possible October appearances like an NLCS, and some even believed the World Series was in play. Unfortunately, the rotation had holes and depended on hurlers to produce ahead of their developmental ability. And keep in mind, this was if the 2019 pen was healthy: It wasn’t.    

In 2020, the pandemic didn’t buy enough time for David Robertson’s return and delayed Seranthony Dominguez’s  Tommy John surgery. But the faithful dwelled on the expanded playoffs and one victory in the final seven contests. However, the five-man staff and the bullpen were a few pieces short. 

Before this 162, fans were either hopeful or doubtful. Some anticipated an under-.500 finish for the red pinstripes with around 90 defeats. Basically, these forecasts were on-paper comparisons to three other NL East organizations viewed without their warts.                

Some locals predicted a .500 club with a September collapse and no postseason aspirations. So, two playoff-like ballgames and a record above .500 were more than they bargained for. In fact, the Phillies end with an 82-80 mark, but some will credit this due to their competitors’ injuries while ignoring the on-the-shelf good guys.               

For 2022, you can expect a group of fans who will give up in June if the Fightins aren’t in first place or within three games of it. Unfortunately, they will include those who never allow themselves to expect more than they forecasted before Opening Day.                          

Others followed the red pinstripes during their winning periods and stopped after a few losses mounted up. During a season, though, there are winning and losing streaks or breaking even. But a common refrain was they pulled me back in. Fair-weather, no? 

Positive Outcome:

While many were experiencing disappointment, even I lost interest in writing on elimination night. I needed a fresh start in the morning because I had expected at least one victory. However, 2021’s bright spots were the acquisition of one starter and the promotion of the other for a competitive rotation.                           

Zack Wheeler’s maturation was not a surprise to the front office or the competition to sign him. No, they expected him to be a top-five ace for $118 million during his five summers. And while he’ll be 34 in his final 162, the others below will be 38, but no one should expect a stud in the final contract years: Luxury Tax consequences.              

Phillies Deal Comparison:

  • Zack Wheeler, 31: $118 million for five years and $23.6 million AAV (average annual value).
  • Gerrit Cole, 31: $321 million for nine years and $36 million AAV.
  • Stephen Strasburg, 33: $245 million for seven years and $35 million AAV.

Aaron Nola is a comeback candidate. Unfortunately, MLB supporters expect the same production from the prior 162. But if a player had an off year, he will correct the mistakes leading to disappointment. Expect Nola’s improvement due also to a normal workload: The additional 109 ⅓ innings probably affected him.                 

Phillies Starters:

Aaron Nola, 28:

  • 2019: 34 Gms., 200 ⅓ Inn., 12-7, a 3.87 ERA and a 3.4 fWAR.
  • 2020: 12 Gms., 71 ⅓ Inn., 5-5, a 3.28 ERA and a 2.0 fWAR.

Ranger Suarez, 25:

  • Top offensive teams: 3 Starts., 13 ⅔ Inn., 2 R, 2 ER for a 1.32 ERA (LAD, TB and NYM).
  • Other clubs: 8 Starts., 46 Inn., 7 R, 7 ER for a 1.37 ERA (WAS, AZ, MIA, CHC, COL and PIT).

For Ranger Suarez, his role and the opponent revealed no result differences. Ergo, he is the rare athlete who makes an early impact and only gets better. For locals who say the Phils’ farm system never produces a top star, what say you now? Ultimately, silence is smart without a strong talking point to spout.            

The potential of three studs for ‘22 is more than wishful thinking even if Suarez has a slight regression, and Nola has a 3.40 ERA. Behind them, Kyle Gibson with a 3.71 ERA for 182 frames is a solid three-slot arm, but he likely tired due to a workload increase of 114 ⅔ innings from only 67 ⅓ frames.    

Lastly, Zach Eflin is also a three. In his last two campaigns combined, he fired 163 ⅔ frames in 28 starts for a 4.12 ERA at 5.9 innings per outing. His 4.12 ERA would equal a four-slot hurler if he was a five-inning pitcher instead of a six-frame moundsman.                    

Since Eflin will begin facing competition in March or be pitching every fifth day in May, Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, won’t be signing a rotation piece this offseason with so many other holes to plug. And April has the most off days: a four-man staff with four fifth-starter needs through May 8 (game 35).      

In March, Nola’s improvement and manager Joe Girardi’s thinking for the most beneficial use of Suarez will determine the front three’s order. But if Nola is in 2020 form, separating Nola and Gibson may be a better placement for Suarez. Either way, the second and third starters will be what, doubting Thomases? Homegrown Phillies!    



2021’s September Drama




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John Murray

Great article. I see the rotation string up as

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