The SSG Philadelphia Phillies are on the verge of a dynasty. Winning two straight World Series titles in this era of free agency, as the Phillies have done, is quite an accomplishment but if they can somehow make it three straight with a victory this October then the D word is something that will certainly merit discussion. The Phillies won 100 games in 2018 by making several key changes from the team that finished 6 games under .500 the previous season. That 2018 squad finished 4 games ahead of Washington atop the National League East and then proceeded to beat the Nationals 3 games to one in the divisional series before topping Colorado in 6 games in the NLCS and winning a dramatic 7 game World Series with the Houston Astros.
With pretty much the same cast last year the script was nearly identical for the Phillies. They won 101 games and finished 8 up on Washington this time around before needing the full five games to eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers in the divisional series. A 6-game win over Cincinnati in the NLCS was followed up by a World Series repeat, beating the Los Angeles Angels in 5 games.
So now as we prepare for spring training 2020 the Phillies will once again have a target on their back as the defending champs. A third straight World Series is certainly not out of the question, but this one looks like it will be much tougher to obtain than the previous two were and that is because of a couple of reasons. The most prominent of which is that the competition might be an awful lot tougher this year as both the Dodgers and Reds – the two teams the Phillies beat in the playoffs last year – have both stocked up on talent. Cincinnati in particular has been very active as the Reds added catcher Salvador Perez (.328,28,99), third baseman Matt Carpenter (.287,10,91), outfielder Anthony Gose (.277,11,54) and pitcher Sonny Gray (7-15, 5.89). The Dodgers added a host of players as well, led by third baseman Anthony Rendon (.275,24,75) and pitcher Justin Verlander (7-8, 4.94). Washington and Colorado would also certainly appear to be in the mix this season and there is always the chance a surprise team emerges as well.
As a repeat winner the Phillies have faced the pressure of everyone gunning for them before but what they did not have to deal with at this time a year ago was the challenge of replacing key losses to free agency. The Phillies starting 8 position players to begin 2019 were the same group that won the Series the year before, although they did lose 2-time reigning MVP Maikel Franco in mid-season to an injury. The Phillies rotation, aside from the mid-season trade that sent Severino Gonzalez to Texas for Yu Darvish, was also pretty much the same last year as it was the previous season.
That won’t be the case this year as the Phillies lost 3 key players to free agency in pitchers Darvish (9-6, 4.35) and Trevor Bauer (7-1, 5.01) as well as the big loss, in having reigning NLCS MVP Matt Kemp (.264,40,101) sign with the Chicago White Sox. It is expected that some combination of internal replacements such as Tristan Dailey or newly acquired Austin Brice and Henderson Alvarez can replace the pitching departures but what about Kemp? It is the task of replacing the 35 year old right fielder, who signed a 2-year, $34 million dollar contract with the White Sox, that could pose a real challenge for the Phillies.
At first glance the loss of Kemp’s bat seems like a serious blow but perhaps not. The big question hinges on the knee of Maikel Franco. If Franco can stay healthy this year the Phillies will have plenty of offense, perhaps even more than they had last year with Kemp in the lineup. The Phillies could also be much better defensively as well. Franco had a year for the ages in 2018, belting 64 homers and 147 rbi’s, and was on a similar pace a year ago until a fractured knee ended his season in late June. Ryan Rua moved from first base to become the everyday third baseman after the injury and delivered nicely at the plate (.256,28,86) but was an obvious drop off from Franco. With Kemp gone for 2020, the Phillies could easily shift 25 year old Lou Brown (.263,27,81) from left field to right field and let Rua, or perhaps 25 year old prospect Dyan Cozens handle the job in left field. So with a healthy Maikel Franco hitting 40-50 homers at third base and Rua duplicating his 30 homer, 80 rbi season the Phillies may hardly even feel the loss of Kemp.
If that happens it is not hard to imagine the Phillies being even more dangerous then they were last season with Kemp, but without Franco for half the year. Yes, even with the absence of Matt Kemp in the middle of the Philadelphia batting order, the word ‘Dynasty” is still very much in play when discussing the Philadelphia Phillies