Bryce Harper’s absence should lead to Phillies lineup tinkering
Without Bryce Harper, for now, the Phillies could test several batting orders.
Defending NLCS MVP Bryce Harper will miss roughly half of the 2023 Philadelphia Phillies season before hopefully returning to full health for the first time in more than a year.
While Harper’s injury is unfortunate and hurts the team, it’s part of the game. It will be an interesting opportunity for manager Rob Thomson and his coaching staff to tinker with the batting order. This would be a welcome change of pace after things settled into a “cookie-cutter pattern” in the late stages of 2022.
Yes, that lineup got the club to the World Series, so I will not fault Thomson for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. But this year is different. You will have a superstar rejoining the club around the All-Star break, so sticking with a specific lineup for a few months — only to have to create a gap for him somewhere in the middle of the season — seems like overkill. Perhaps a more flexible approach is in order this year, as the addition of Trea Turner creates options.
Stick with Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot to begin the season, if you like. It worked most of last season, and the guy had a flair for the dramatic — hitting leadoff home runs. But Turner needs to be given a look at the top of the lineup at some point, and hopefully, it will not be a situation where Thomson tries to shake things up when they have lost five games in a row. Maybe try something for a week or so to see how it goes. Or vary it up depending on the opposing starter. I do not want to see the team mired in an unbudging “1 Schwarber, 2 Turner, etc.” kind of lineup.
Following that, you fill out the 3-4-5 “meat” of the lineup without Harper at your disposal. Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and Nick Castellanos are the most obvious candidates for these spots — with Alec Bohm perhaps getting some play.
I would not want Hoskins any higher in the order than fifth — even with Harper out. Ideally, Castellanos can hit cleanup — bouncing back from his awful 2022 season. I would give him a shot there for at least a few weeks.
Realmuto then would be your No. 3 guy, and maybe you would even want to hit him second in the order on occasion. How would a Schwarber-Realmuto-Turner top-of-the-order look? Or maybe Turner-Realmuto-Bohm? The point is, the Phillies have several options — provided everyone is healthy and performs decently.
The bottom third of the order could have a few different looks. Most of the time, it will likely consist of Bryson Stott, Matt Vierling, and Brandon Marsh. Opportunities for Nick Maton and Edmundo Sosa also will not be uncommon, and Garrett Stubbs will hit there on the days he relieves Realmuto behind the plate. This group certainly is not the worst bottom of the order we have seen from the Phils in recent years, but it leaves something to be desired.
Maybe scooching Stott up to the sixth spot and Bohm down to the seventh spot? That seems to be about the only current option, as the Phillies certainly are not putting any of their players who are making eight figures down into that part of the lineup. Once Harper returns, however, you would have to figure that everyone moves down a slot. His presence might help the bottom of the lineup just as much as it reinforces the heart of the order.
Speaking of Bryce, what happens once he returns? I am a firm believer in batting him third. I did not like him in the cleanup spot for the postseason games. Ultimately, Harper will need as many at-bats as he can get in the run leading to the postseason, and you would be stealing some of those away if you batted him one spot lower. RBI opportunities should still abound in the No. 3 spot for this team. Maybe he takes a while to round into form, but Bryce should be a “set it and forget it” lineup staple batting third.
Since I am a proponent of Turner hitting leadoff over Schwarber — and given the left-left issue of hitting Schwarber before or after Harper — I propose this top-six once Harper returns:
- Trea Turner
- J.T. Realmuto
- Bryce Harper
- Nick Castellanos
- Kyle Schwarber
- Rhys Hoskins
I am open to some shifting and shuffling. But this seems like an excellent mix to me. The keys will be Castellanos turning in a much better season, and Schwarber and Hoskins not causing any issues with their depressed positions in the order. This is not a punishment for either — just a reflection of putting your three best hitters at the top and then following it up with more of a power dynamic before you get to the Bohm/Stott/Marsh bottom of it.
While it is less than ideal to have your MVP miss half a season, the Phillies have at least put themselves in a spot to succeed even while Harper is on the mend. And it would be a waste of an opportunity to get too stodgy with lineup pieces in his absence.
It is time to mix and match — go ahead and pull names out of a hat a couple of times if you have to. Either way, the Phillies should throw different looks at teams to make them harder to prepare for and less predictable to attack sans Harper. It would be yet another fun element of a 2023 season that we are all looking forward to.