The Philadelphia Phillies kick off their 139th season in franchise history on April 1, hosting a National League East rival, the Atlanta Braves, in Citizens Bank Park at 3:05 PM Eastern Time.
Last season, former New York Yankees skipper Joe Giradi took over as Philadelphia’s manager. Giradi’s managerial debut was delayed, as was the entire Major League Baseball season, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Philadelphia posted a solid 15-15 record halfway through the 60-game season, but sputtered to the finish with a final record of 28-32. This placed the Phillies third in the National League East, and seven games behind the division-leading Braves.
In 2021, with largely the same core of players, the Phillies will look to post their first winning season, as well as postseason appearance, since 2011.
The Phillies announced their Opening Day lineup on Twitter ahead of Thursday’s matchup with the Braves. Of the nine players making an Opening Day start, seven of them also started started last Opening Day on July 24, 2020. Scott Kingery and Roman Quinn failed to earn a start after receiving the nod last year, but they still both remain on the Phillies roster. Instead, Alec Bohm and Adam Haseley will receive their first Opening Day starts, expanding on their roles from 2020.
Batting leadoff for the third straight season, former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen enters his 13th season in the majors. After a knee-injury cut McCutchen’s 2019 campaign short, the veteran bounced back in 2020, participating in 57 out of a possible 60 games. The right-handed left fielder hit .253 last season with ten home runs, 32 runs scored, and 34 runs batted in. McCutchen posted a career-low .324 on-base percentage, a number he’ll certainly have to improve on to retain the leadoff position throughout 2021.
Playing first base and batting second, Rhys Hoskins also gets the Opening Day nod for the third straight season. While Hoskins didn’t post the flashiest numbers over 41 games in 2020, he did improve across the board: raising his batting average from .226 to .245, his on-base percentage from .364 to .384, and his slugging percentage from .454 to .503. Hoskins smacked ten home runs in 2020, a pace that would net the first baseman 39 home runs over 160 games, as opposed to the 29 he hit in that many games in 2019. Entering his fifth year in the majors, Hoskins will look to continue his upward trend in 2021.
Batting third and playing right field is the current face of the Phillies franchise: the $330 million man himself, Bryce Harper. Entering the third year of a massive 13-year contract, Harper is still looking for both his first postseason appearance as well as All-Star selection with Philadelphia. Last year, Harper hit .268 with 13 home runs, 41 runs scored, and 33 runs batted in over 58 games. Harper drew a league-leading 49 walks, giving the left-handed hitter a solid .420 on-base percentage. Still, the 28-year old needs to do even better in 2021 to earn his seventh All-Star appearance.
Batting in the cleanup spot and playing catcher, also for the third straight season, is former Miami Marlins prospect J.T. Realmuto. While Realmuto’s future in Philadelphia was up in the air over the offseason, the catcher ultimately signed a lucrative five-year, $115.5 million contract: the richest ever for his position. In addition to being a fundamentally sound catcher, the two-time All-Star is integral to the Phillies offense. Last year in 47 games, Realmuto’s numbers rivaled those of his peers who appeared in 55-60 games. The catcher hit .266 wit 11 home runs, scored 33 runs, and drove in 32 runs. These numbers weren’t enough to earn Realmuto a third-straight All-Star nod, but he still signed the richest catcher deal in MLB history, so the 30-year old can’t complain.
Playing third base, batting fifth, and making his first Opening Day start is 24-year old Alec Bohm. The infielder finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting last season, breaking on to the scene over 44 games. Bohm’s batting average (.338) and on-base percentage (.400) would be impressive for any player, yet alone a rookie. Bohm also scored 24 runs, drove in 23 and hit four balls out for home runs. A high-contact hitter, Bohm will look to increase his contribution to Phillies offense in 2021.
Didi Gregorious was once of the Phillies best additions ahead of the 2020 season, and the veteran shortstop earns his second straight Opening Day nod and the sixth slot in the batting lineup. Coming off five years with the New York Yankees, Gregorious improved across the board in his first year in Philadelphia. Appearing in all 60 games, Gregorious hit .284 (the third-highest mark of his career,) reached base at a .339 clip (a career-high,) and smacked ten home runs (on pace for 27 over a full season.)
While Juan Segura started last Opening Day at third base, the versatile infielder starts this season at second base and batting seventh. The two-time All-Star appeared in 54 games last season, hitting .266 with seven home runs, 28 runs, and 25 runs batted in. With a .347 on-base percentage, Segura could be a pesky force for opposing pitchers late in the lineup.
Starting on Opening Day for the first time, playing center field, and batting eighth is Adam Haseley, in his third year in the majors. Haseley was useful in relief of a struggling McCutchen at the start of the 2020 season, and eventually earned his way to a full-time starting role. The soon-to-be 25-year old appeared in 40 games last season, hitting .278 with seven runs scored and 13 runs batted in. Haseley failed to hit a home run in 2020 despite hitting five in 2019, and the outfielder posted a low .342 slugging percentage in 2020.
On the mound, Aaron Nola will throw out the first pitch for the Phillies for the fourth year in a row. The Philadelphia pitcher to start on more than three consecutive Opening Day’s was Steve Carlton, who threw out the first pitch 14 of 15 seasons from 1973-1986. Nola started 12 games in 2020, posting a 5-5 record with 3.28 ERA. The COVID-shortened season may have been a blessing in disguise for the 27-year old pitcher, who started a league-leading 34 games in 2019. Nola enters his seventh season in the majors, all with the Phillies, with a 58-40 career record and a solid 3.47 career ERA. Nola threw his first two complete games in 2020, a mark that led the league which seems to be encouraging shorter starting pitcher outings.
Manager Joe Girardi will look to take this Phillies team to the next level, with a mix of a solid core that has been developing for the past three seasons, homegrown talent, and some veteran additions. With a traditional 162-game season ahead, Girardi will have more time to adjust and allow his team to hit a stride, ideally towards the second half of the season and heading well into October.
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Travel and Hiking
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Header Photo Credit: ABC6 Philadelphia