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2020 NL East Preview: Breaking down the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies

In our second installment of our series looking at the Nationals’ NL East rivals, we analyze the Philadelphia Phillies...

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The National League East is once again expected to be a highly-competitive division in 2020 and the Washington Nationals are looking to take back the division title this season.

This week, we have a series of articles previewing each of the other NL East teams to see how the defending champs compare to the main foes.

In each piece, we look at the team’s offseason, lineup, rotation, bullpen, and prospects who could make an impact in 2020.

Now that we’ve gotten the likely basement-dwellers of the NL East out of the way in this series, it’s time to sink our teeth into the Nationals’ three main division rivals.

Next up for a cross-examine is the unpredictable Philadelphia Phillies...

Notable Arrivals

  • SP, Zack Wheeler
  • SS, Didi Gregorius
  • UTIL, Josh Harrison (MiL deal)
  • RP, Francisco Liriano (MiL deal)
  • INF, Neil Walker (MiL deal)
  • RP, Drew Storen (MiL deal)
  • RP, Bud Norris (MiL deal)
  • RP, Anthony Swarzak (MiL deal)
  • RP, Blake Parker (MiL deal)
  • INF, Logan Forsythe (MiL deal)
  • OF, Kyle Garlick

Notable Departures

  • RP, Juan Nicasio
  • INF, Brad Miller
  • OF, Corey Dickerson
  • INF, Sean Rodríguez
  • SP, Drew Smyly
  • SP, Jason Vargas
  • RP, Pat Neshek
  • 2B, César Hernández
  • 3B, Maikel Franco

Offseason Summary: After an alleged “stupid money” offseason before 2019, the Phillies had a much less active offseason in terms of volume of major league deals signed.

However, the additions that they did make were high-impact moves.

Obviously, the headliner is signing Wheeler away from the division rival New York Mets on a five-year, $118 million deal. There’s a lot of projection here, as Philly is banking on the right-hander performing closer to his peripherals rather than past results.

They were also able to nab a pair of former New York Yankees in Didi Gregorius, who should slide in at shortstop, and a name not included on the above list in Joe Girardi.

After some of Gabe Kapler’s friction with the team and its supporters, the importance of bringing in a well-respected, World Series-winning manager like Girardi can’t be overstated. If any available manager was going to steer this talented Phillies team the right way, it was Girardi.

After that, there’s a whole bunch of minor league deal fliers coming into camp. Many have extensive major league experience like Harrison, Liriano, and Walker. There’s even an old friend in Storen on the list of players hoping to break camp with many spots up for grabs.

Potential Lineup

  1. LF, Andrew McCutchen/Roman Quinn
  2. C, J.T. Realmuto
  3. RF, Bryce Harper
  4. 1B, Rhys Hoskins
  5. SS, Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B, Jean Segura
  7. 2B, Scott Kingery
  8. CF, Adam Haseley
  9. Pitcher

On the whole, the primary eight starters are fairly set for the Phillies heading into 2020. There are still a few questions as to how the lineup looks on Opening Day though.

As of right now, it doesn’t look like McCutchen, who is coming off of an ACL tear, will be ready to start the season. So until he’s ready, expect Roman Quinn to slide into either left or center and maybe even at the top of the order too, though that last part is up for debate.

Then there are some questions as to how the heart of the order will shape up.

Reading some of the tea leaves, the only time that Realmuto, Harper, and Hoskins have played together so far this spring, they were in that order. The same somewhat applies to Gregorius and Segura, though Segura has hit higher since the McCutchen news.

Kingery, who had an impressive 2019 season will likely slot in as the everyday second baseman after filling a utility role. That means Segura will be learning a new position at third base, at least until top prospect Alec Bohm gets his inevitable call-up.

Regardless of how they eventually stack up in the batting order, this is one of the better lineups in all of baseball and potentially the best lineup in the NL East heading into 2020.

How do the Nationals compare?: With the unavoidable loss of Anthony Rendon as well as some unremarkable replacements, it’s only fair to expect a step back from the Nats’ offense which recorded a very solid 103 wRC+ in 2019.

On the other hand, the Phillies, who held a 91 wRC+ last campaign, not only strengthened their lineup a little, but they’re due for bouncebacks from McCutchen and Hoskins, as well as the ever-tantalizing upside of Harper who could explode at any point.

Overall, that Phillies lineup is much deeper and seems to have a little more high-end talent so they have a slight edge over the Nationals in this department.

Verdict: Advantage Phillies

Potential Rotation

  1. Aaron Nola
  2. Zack Wheeler
  3. Jake Arrieta
  4. Zach Eflin
  5. Vince Velasquez

The Phillies rotation is certainly going to be interesting to track this season. There’s talent at the top, an experienced veteran anchoring the middle, and then there could be a cavalcade of arms rotating in and out of the bottom spot or two until someone claims it as their own.

After a stellar Cy Young-caliber season in 2018, the ace of the staff, Nola, took a step back in 2019.

It was an up-and-down year for the right-hander who took his lumps as his walks and HR/9 spiked from their impressive 2018 levels. If the Phillies are to contend this season, they’ll need Nola to correct those trends and get closer to the pitcher he was the year before.

After Nola, there’s the high-upside Wheeler who the sabermetric community loved in free agency with his projectability. His performance could be the key to whole rotation as if he can perform up to his peripherals, it takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the rotation.

Beyond that, there are a whole bunch of question marks with the Phillies’ starting pitching...

Can Arrieta vaguely recapture his pre-Phillies form? Will Eflin continue to improve or is he simply a back-end starter? And who out of the team’s inconsistently promising arms like Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and Enyel De Los Santos can step up as the fifth man?

Perhaps the best part of the second half of the rotation will be the potential presence of top pitching prospect, Spencer Howard, who could provide a bit more stability to this unit.

While there’s certainly some promise in this rotation, you can’t ignore the question marks.

How do the Nationals compare?: Let’s be real, this Phillies’ rotation has a decent ceiling, but there are very few starting pitching groups that are in the same class as the Nats right now.

Expect that to be the case once again in 2020. Even a best-case scenario for the Phillies of Nola rebounding, Wheeler living up to the hype, and Howard coming up and continuing his level of dominance from the minor leagues would still leave a bit of a gap between the two.

Verdict: Advantage Nationals

Potential Bullpen

  • José Álvarez
  • Seranthony Domínguez
  • Deolis Guerra
  • Tommy Hunter
  • Francisco Liriano
  • Adam Morgan
  • Hector Neris
  • Blake Parker

Last season’s Achilles heel, the Phillies’ bullpen is all over the place with only four or five real sure-things who are likely to make the Opening Day bullpen, with the rest up for grabs this spring.

It looks like once again Neris will slot in as the team’s closer, at least to begin the season. His overall numbers were good last season, finishing with a 2.93 ERA and 11.8 K/9, but he doesn’t always inspire too much confidence for Phillies fans when he closes out games.

Behind Neris the primary setup man will likely be Domínguez. Though he’s yet to make his spring debut yet with the team being cautious with his elbow, the team’s primary closer in 2018 is an electric young arm who could become a staple of this bullpen for years to come.

Álvarez, Hunter, and Morgan have all been members of this bullpen for a while and, on the whole, once again make for solid enough mid-to-high leverage options for Philadelphia.

Rounding out the bullpen could be a couple of non-roster invites in Liriano and Parker.

Parker was a member of this bullpen last year and was solid enough, so should have the inside track this spring.

Liriano on the other hand has been bouncing around a few different bullpens recently and should make for an effective lefty for the Phillies.

In theory, they could choose to take one of the starters who misses out on the fifth starter job, such as Pivetta who is probably better suited for the bullpen, but for now, we’ll just look at this eight.

How do the Nationals compare?: Both of these units aren’t really anything to write home about, but in this format, it seems as though we have to try and pick one if possible.

Overall, there’s probably slightly less volatility with the Nationals’ bullpen as they have Sean Doolittle and Will Harris as well as more upside with high-octane young arms like Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero who appear to be on the path to becoming dominant relievers.

That said, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the likes of Neris and Domínguez dominate while some of their other arms step up and the Phillies have a better unit at the end of the year.

Verdict: Advantage Nationals

Prospects to know for 2020

  • 3B, Alec Bohm
  • SP, Spencer Howard
  • SP/RP, Adonis Medina
  • C, Deivy Grullon
  • SP/RP, JoJo Romero
  • SP/RP, Cole Irvin

Not too long ago, the Phillies had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. It’s slightly worse off now that they’ve moved into contention, but there are still impressive pieces left.

We’ve already touched on both Bohm and Howard who are consensus top 100 prospects in baseball. They could be on course to make their major league debuts later this season assuming all goes to plan performance and health-wise and should make a big impact.

Beyond the top two, there isn’t a whole lot to be excited about from a 2020 perspective.

Grullon has been opening some eyes this spring as a strong bat-first catcher and he could crack the roster as the backup catcher at some point and represent a strong pinch-hitting option.

Then finally there’s some swingmen who are all on the 40-man roster and could act as rotation depth or be used out of the bullpen based on the team’s needs during the year.

Medina is the most notable of that group as a former top 100 prospect who struggled last year. He has the velocity and pure stuff to be an excellent starter, but if the command woes from 2019 resurface, he may end up being bumped to the bullpen long-term.

Final Thoughts

Last year, the Phillies were one of the sexy picks to make a deep October run after seemingly doing well over the offseason. As we all know though, it didn’t play out that way.

But that disappointment from last year might actually leave them slightly underrated heading into 2020. PECOTA projections have Philadelphia at a pretty measly 77 wins, just 7 more than the Miami Marlins and 10 wins behind the Nationals.

That pessimistic projection is despite the fact that they’ve managed to improve their roster a fair amount this offseason while also getting one of the better free agent managers out there. And they were able to do so while the top two in the division arguably got worse.

If some of their stars like Hoskins and Nola can rebound with Harper perhaps taking another step forward, the Phillies should be able to stay competitive in the NL East all year.

That’s a fair amount of ifs around this team, but there is a pretty clear path to being in the postseason picture come September. Don’t write this team out of postseason contention this year or they might just surprise you...