MLB has been in lockout for over two months, but that doesn’t change the fact that the odds are stacked against the Philadelphia Phillies.
They have a low-ranked farm system, a high payroll, and a lot of gaping holes on their roster. Within their own division, they have to go up against the defending champion Atlanta Braves and the super-spending New York Mets, who added Max Scherzer and Starling Marte before the work stoppage began. And that’s just the NL East!
In short, it’s a lot to go up against.
But as Han Solo famously said, “Never tell me the odds!” So instead of worrying about the many things that could go wrong, let’s talk about three things that need to go right in order for the Phillies to have a chance at playing in the postseason for the first time since 2011.
1. The Phillies need a bounce-back year from Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola hurt the Phillies more than he helped them in 2021, allowing far too many runs and pitching far fewer innings than necessary. Often, the overtired, incapable bullpen was called upon by the fifth inning, if not sooner; Nola only made five starts of 7+ innings.
Nola is heading into the final year of his contract, after which the Phillies will either pick up his club option or pay him a buyout and send him into free agency. It would be nice for all involved if he pitched better this year, either to lead the Phillies into the playoffs, or at the very least, end his time in Philadelphia on a high note.
2. The Phillies need a repeat year from Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper couldn’t drag the 2021 Phillies into the postseason on his own, but he sure as heck tried. He won NL MVP by leading MLB in slugging, OPS, OPS+, and tying for the lead in doubles, with a career-high 42.
We’re not going to get greedy and demand an exact repeat performance in 2022, but if the Phillies want to clinch their first postseason berth in a decade, Harper will need to bring the heat once again.
3. The Phillies need a functioning bullpen
Before the lockout went into effect on December 2, the Phillies claimed Kent Emanuel off waivers from the Houston Astros and signed reliever Corey Knebel to a one-year deal for a whopping $10M. That’s a lot of money for a pitcher who hasn’t played a full season since 2018, but the Phillies are a bit desperate, especially since the Astros signed longtime closer Hector Neris away from them.
In 2021, the ‘pen tied an MLB record by blowing 34 saves opportunities, a truly embarrassing situation. If the Phillies want a fighting chance in 2022, they need a bullpen that can hold down games until the final out. Will Emanuel and Knebel be enough?