The Philadelphia Phillies own the longest playoff drought in the National League. They have not finished over .500 since 2011. The Phillies also play in the toughest division in the MLB. This combination of things has led many in the national baseball scene to pick the Phillies to finish fourth in the NL East, sometimes even fifth. For a team that was only one game away from a playoff berth in 2020, are people sleeping on the Phillies for the 2021 season?
There was no secret to the cause of the Phillies’ struggles in 2020. A 7.06 bullpen ERA, one of the worst bullpens in MLB history, tanked a team that finished fifth in runs scored and seventh in team OPS. The Phillies made several moves in the offseason to attempt to overhaul their bullpen for the 2021 season. In December, the Phillies acquired José Alvarado from the Tampa Bay Rays. Alvarado has struggled with walks over the past two seasons but has an electric sinker slider combo. He should be in the running for the closer role but will be the top left-handed pitcher out of the bullpen for Joe Girardi. In January, the Phillies signed Archie Bradley to a one-year contract. Bradley quickly made himself a fan favorite by advocating for the signing of then free agent J.T. Realmuto.
Bradley will join Alvarado and holdover Héctor Neris as candidates to be the Phillies closer. Other newcomers to the Phillies’ relief corps include Sam Coonrod, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, and Héctor Rondón. The success of the bullpen will be vital to the Phillies’ playoff chances in 2021.
One place the Phillies did not struggle last season was at the plate. The Phillies had a top ten offense that was buoyed by stars Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. Not only did the Phillies stars deliver, but supporting pieces Rhys Hoskins, Didi Gregorius, and Rookie of the Year runner-up Alec Bohm contributed greatly at the plate. A full season with Bohm, who hit .338 in 44 games in 2020, and the return of all of their offensive weapons from last season, should allow the Phillies to remain a top ten offensive team.
Another strength for the Phillies heading into 2021 is the top of the Phillies’ starting rotation. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler both received down-ballot Cy Young votes last season. Zach Eflin has long been pegged for a breakout season due to his positive underlying statistics. Eflin had a 3.39 FIP in ten starts last season and looked more comfortable going back to his sinker as his most used pitch. The Phillies also added veterans Matt Moore and Chase Anderson to round out the starting rotation. Don’t be surprised when Vince Velazquez and top prospect Spencer Howard see starts to keep everyone’s innings in check as baseball returns to a 162 game season in 2021.
With a top ten offense and a starting rotation led by two-star pitchers, the Phillies had the makings of a playoff team. A historically bad bullpen got in their way and extended the Phillies’ playoff drought to 9 years. With the same offense and a deeper starting rotation, the Phillies are looking to their revamped bullpen to pick up the slack. If the bullpen can rank in the middle of the pack, the Phillies are capable of making noise in a crowded NL East and challenge for a spot in the playoffs.