There was no baseball on Mother’s Day. There was no baseball on Memorial Day. There was no baseball on Father’s Day. But the summer with no baseball finally seems to be ending. The Fourth of July is next week — next week!? — and there is baseball on the schedule. Spring — or is it summer? — training camps will be opened. The 2020 major-league season will finally be near.
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Yes, baseball is back. The stands will be empty, spitting will be banned, and high-fives and fist bumps will be frowned upon, but Philadelphia’s civic tradition of worrying about the Phillies bullpen seems safe for another season. Baseball has truly returned.
The coronavirus was hours from canceling spring training and postponing the season when general manager Matt Klentak was asked in March how he felt about his team’s bullpen, which was battling injuries in Clearwater after being ravaged by them last season.
Tommy Hunter — the lone reliever signed last offseason to a big-league deal — had been ruled out for the opener. David Robertson, Victor Arano, and Seranthony Dominguez were out, too. Assembling an eight-man bullpen was beginning to feel like a challenge.
“We’ll make it work,” Klentak said.
Three months later, as the Phillies prepare for a 60-game sprint, their postseason chances will weigh heavily on their bullpen. Starting pitchers are expected to begin the season on innings limits, leading to more reliance on relief pitchers. So the Phillies should find out quickly if they can make it work.
Adam Morgan, Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez will be on the opening-day roster. Hunter and Arano should be healthy, too. The remaining spots — the Phillies will likely begin the season with a double-digit bullpen — will be taken by players claimed in the winter on waivers, veterans signed to minor-league deals, or prospects who were scheduled to begin the season in triple A.
The Phillies did not invest significantly in their bullpen last winter, opting instead for a pile of scratch-offs and hoping at least one is a winner. It’s a risky strategy and it could be even more volatile in a shortened season when every game carries more weight and there is greater dependence on the bullpen.
The Phillies’ ability to make their bullpen work could depend on what they have in pitchers such as Drew Storen and Bud Norris, who are trying to keep their careers alive after not pitching last season in the majors. The Phillies might have to rely sooner than expected on the young arms who racked up big strikeout numbers last season in the minors, such as Garrett Cleavinger, Damon Jones, and Addison Russ. And they’ll see what they found on the waiver wire when they claimed Robert Stock, Deolis Guerra, and Reggie McClain.
There are certainly enough options to fill out an expanded bullpen, as they invited 40 pitchers to Clearwater this year for spring training. But those same concerns that lingered in Florida — do they have enough to make it work? — will still be present next week when the Phillies resume spring training. Perhaps it would not feel like baseball in Philadelphia if there were no worries about the bullpen.
“I think between some starting pitchers that may shift to the bullpen, between returning major-league guys, between some kids in our system, and some nonroster invitees that we have competing for jobs, I feel like we have a good mix of players to create a strong major-league bullpen,” Klentak said.
Did you have time to read all 101-pages of the operations manual that will guide Major League Baseball during the coronavirus pandemic? No? Well, we have you covered. Here’s a run-through of everything you need to know about how the season will operate, including how the games will be broadcast differently. Don’t worry: The Phillie Phanatic will be allowed in the ballpark.
The Phillies’ 60-game season will be played exclusively against teams from the National League East and American League East, which Scott Lauber writes could provide a reality check to the team’s postseason hopes. If the Phillies are to make the playoffs this season, they must either win the division or capture one of two wild-card spots while playing two-thirds of their games against teams that they went 36-40 against last season.
No matter what, baseball in 2020 will always be remembered for COVID-19. The virus wrote a letter to Major League Baseball, which was somehow obtained by our Bob Brookover. The season might be scheduled to begin, but there are still some serious questions that need to be answered.
The Phillies signed first-round pick Mick Abel, who was the first high-school pitcher selected in this year’s draft. Lauber wrote a nice story earlier this month about the 100-mph right-hander after the draft and talked to his high-school coach in Oregon.
In case you missed it, several key pieces of the 2008 Phillies got together last week to talk about that championship season and the clinching game of the World Series. The highlight comes near the end when Brad Lidge asks Chase Utley to talk about his famous parade speech and Jayson Werth jumps in to add that Utley asked him before the speech if it was being aired on live TV. It’s a fun way to spend 45 minutes.
Friday: The freeze on major-league transactions ends.
Sunday: Each team must submit its pool of 60 players.
July 1: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
July 23: The Major League Baseball season begins.
The Phillies will play a 60-game season, which Lauber points out is the shortest major-league season since 1878. So what is the franchise’s best mark through 60 games? That would be the 1993 Phillies, who went 43-17 en route to winning the pennant. The worst? The 1945 Phillies, who went 15-45 and finished the season with 108 losses. The Phillies were 33-27 last season through 60 games with a half-game lead atop the National League East. Maybe Gabe Kapler was cut out for the 60-game season.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: I know we’ve just gotten word that they’ll be playing baseball this year but if, and it’s a big IF I know, they start to let fans into the games. What is that going to do to the availability of tickets? I think I’ve heard limited capacity, 30-50% whatever, but how would the ticket sales be handled? I ask both from a partial season ticket holder with the Phils and from the perspective of a traveling fan that likes to go see a game in different city. — Earle Iverson