The Philadelphia Phillies' starting rotation depth enabled an NLCS return in 2023. But believing yesterday's results will produce tomorrow's success is a risk. It's unknown if president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has been unable or unwilling to obtain a known starting pitcher commodity to date.
But the pressure will likely build if he chooses to head into the season, or even well into the schedule, status quo.
Can the Phillies rely on the current rotation to stay intact this season
Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler each made 32 regular season starts last season. Nola started 32 games in 2022, with Wheeler's tendinitis impacting the 26 starts he made.
Nola turns 31 in June and has pitched 398 2/3innings in the last two years. Wheeler, who led all major league pitchers with a 5.9 fWAR, will turn 34 in May and has pitched 345 innings combined in 2022 and 2023. Add to the totals 48 2/3 postseason innings for Nola and 63 1/3 postseason innings for Wheeler.
Can manager Rob Thomson ride both workhorses around the track again? If not, the Phillies could risk falling out of the divisional race or Wild Card contention.
Ranger Suárez is a cool left-handed artist, demonstrated by his 0.90 WHIP over the past two postseasons. He slots between the playoff WHIPs of Nola (1.15) and Wheeler (0.73 WHIP) and should ideally start closer to or above the 29 regular season games he worked in 2022 than 2023's injury-related 22 starts.
Dombrowski's 2022 offseason addition to the rotation, Taijuan Walker, started 31 games and threw 172 2/3 innings. His erratic performance in the 2023 regular season resulted in zero playoff innings for the righty.
After the Phillies were dropped by the Arizona Diamondbacks last fall, Walker sent a social media message. Thomson's acceptance of it will be challenged if the right-hander can't consistently hit the strike zone this spring. Possibly, Walker is exchanged before the season begins for a similar change-of-scenery candidate. Alternatively, he may feel motivated to prove doubters wrong and deliver in red pinstripes.
Christopher Sánchez has only started 22 games since debuting in 2021. The promising left-hander pitched a career-high 101 2/3 innings last year, including 2 1/3 innings in the NLCS. His ability to make 22 starts this season would greatly benefit the team.
A spring training injury to any of the Phillies' five slated starters could allow any pitcher who threw in the system last year to break camp. But any degree of prospect is a suspect until proven otherwise in the major leagues. Mick Abel seems like the obvious choice, but he only threw 4 1/3 innings at Triple-A and battled command issues with a 5.16 BB/9 last season.
With the current rotation, the Phillies may again rely on lefty Matt "The Card Life" Strahm as insurance if a spot opens up. Ten of his 35 career regular-season starts came last season. Strahm and the recently signed former Atlanta Braves lefty Kolby Allard are sixth-starter material.
What are the Phillies' options to bolster the rotation before the season?
While the Yoshinobu Yamamoto bid failed, National League Cy Young winner Blake Snell, 31, can still be had. Would the Phillies be willing to commit to a long-term deal with another middle-aged pitcher or offer a mega short-term contract that tops his other options? Jordan Montgomery, also 31, is a more realistic, cheaper left-handed option.
Michael Lorenzen, who recently put on a bullpen showcase, started seven games for the Phillies after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 1. He threw the 14th no-hitter in team history eight days later before fading down the stretch, only throwing 5 1/3 postseason relief innings. However, he's a durable swingman who has started 43 games the past two seasons combined for the Los Angeles Angels, Tigers, and Phillies.
Clayton Kershaw turns 36 in March. The lifelong Los Angeles Dodger, recovering from offseason left shoulder surgery and not planning to pitch until the summer, could become an in-season get. Assuming no LA reunion and good health, comparisons between "The Claw" and the 2009 signing of Pedro Martinez would abound.
So, will Philadelphia gamble that the rotation is good enough until MLB's Trade Deadline on July 30? Bolstering staff depth before then remains possible. Dombroski and his staff know the playoff window is open, with the organization's elusive third World Series title hopes generally centered on the mound.