We can go on and on speculating about where the Philadelphia Phillies are headed in future seasons, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let's draw some focus to the here and now, specifically when it comes to the Phils' pitching staff. With less than a quarter of the regular season left to play, it's getting to be crunch time, and there are still several questions lingering about the club's hurlers. Here are three in particular that will be important to answer down the homestretch.
Will any young arms in the organization make a difference on the big club this season?
I suppose that depends on how you define "young", as you most likely don't have Cristopher Sanchez in mind. Instead, all of the helium went out of this balloon early this year with news of the Andrew Painter injury. File him away for late 2024, hopefully, and that leaves Mick Abel and Griff McGarry. Unfortunately, any hopes of either of them making a contribution at the MLB level this year appear to be fading quickly.
For McGarry, who was recently moved up to Lehigh Valley after having clearly mastered the AA-level, his first two starts have been a complete disaster. Positive results for a few weeks would have presumably made him a strong candidate to come up and help the Phillies in September, but that window has abruptly closed at the moment. Unless McGarry can make a serious turnaround quickly, we won't be seeing him in Philadelphia in 2023. Even then, he might need an injury to open up a slot, and let's not hope for anything like that. Let's say that he has a 20% chance to bring anything meaningful to the bigs this year.
As for Abel, his odds of coming up are probably even lower than McGarry's. The results just haven't been there over his 18 starts at Reading this year, and Abel is looking more and more like a 'midseason 2024' kind of option at this point. The guy just turned 22, so there's still plenty of time, but when the Somerset Patriots knock you around, you can't be trusted in the middle of a National League playoff race. He is sporting a nice strikeout rate and showing some signs of hope, but it's seemingly too early for him. This is an unfortunate development that none of the Phillies' top young organizational arms figure to come up to the club in 2023, but at least the blow is softened by the addition of Michael Lorenzen that has padded the rotation while everyone is healthy. Let's hope it stays that way.
Who is the closer when it matters most?
You might be tempted to say "It's Craig Kimbrel, case closed" and just move on, but wait a second. Rob Thomson and Caleb Cotham have been extremely careful with Kimbrel's usage and have shown a disdain for pitching Kimbrel on back-to-back days. Are they 'keeping him fresh' for the end of the year, or is this coaching staff totally comfortable going with a matchup-based deployment at the end of games?
For one thing, the pending return of Jose Alvarado will be both a boon to the bullpen and also a complicating factor for the question of who gets the ball protecting a one-run lead in the ninth inning. These guys are volatile, it's true, but we've seen Seranthony Dominguez succeed before. We've seen Gregory Soto dominate, as well, although most of that came in Detroit. In the end, this seems to be leaning more toward a committee rather than simply turning things over to Kimbrel no matter what. And that's fine, because this bullpen should be on board with doing whatever it takes to win ballgames.
Aaron Nola...what gives?
Many an article has been written about Nola, both about his struggles and the dominant form that he has been able to show. This goes back years. 2023 has been intensely frustrating for the Phillies' erstwhile ace. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he is on pace to blow away his career "high" for home runs allowed. I would say "Aaron Nola is not a mid-4's ERA pitcher", but he turned in one of those in 2021, too. Just so many questions and so little time.
The Phillies, if they make the playoffs, will be involved in a best-of-3 opening round series. Dare we ask — would Aaron Nola get one of those three starts? Your instinct would be to scoff, but Zack Wheeler, Michael Lorenzen, and either Ranger Suarez or Taijuan Walker would all be better options at this point in time. All we can do is hope for health and production across the board, and then this becomes a 'good' problem to have. As for Nola, would he accept some sort of piggyback/relief option? Who knows, and frankly, who cares? If things don't turn around for him, nobody should have a problem with Nola being the odd man out when it comes to the playoffs, at least in the first round. We all sincerely hope that he finds his form from last fall, but it's tough to imagine at this point. Oh, and don't look now, but we'll be flipping the calendar to September soon. Last year aside, September has been, uh, not good, for Mr. Nola.
These questions and more remain to be answered over the final six weeks of the 2023 Phillies regular season. Let's just hope it doesn't end there, because we all got a hankering for October baseball last year. With any luck, we'll get to catch the fever again.