When Andrew McCutchen came off the injured list last week, Rhys Hoskins went on it. When Zach Eflin last pitched in a game, Kyle Gibson was still a Texas Ranger. Former closer Ranger Suárez is a revelation as a starter, but when reliever José Alvarado’s shoulder flared, it felt like the Phillies robbed Peter to pay Paul.
Consider this a caveat, then, to what you are about to read: It might not happen.
The Phillies might never have their best 26 players together at the same time. They’re not alone. Across baseball, teams are dealing with a higher volume of injuries (some related to COVID-19, others not) than ever before.
But as a thought exercise after a night without a game, what if the Phillies could put out their optimal roster? What might that look like? Probably something like this:
Starters (5): Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Eflin, Gibson, Suárez.
Relievers (8): Ian Kennedy, Archie Bradley, Héctor Neris, Alvarado, Connor Brogdon, Bailey Falter, Seranthony Domínguez, Matt Moore.
Catchers (2): J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Knapp.
Infielders (7): Hoskins, Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, Ronald Torreyes, Brad Miller, Alec Bohm, Freddy Galvis.
Outfielders (4): Bryce Harper, McCutchen, Odúbel Herrera, Travis Jankowski.
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Gibson has made only three starts for the Phillies, but he’s already making an impact in the community. He donates to Philabundance for each of his strikeouts and Cradles to Crayons for every Phillies victory.
The Phillies pursued Gibson in free agency two years ago before he signed with the Rangers. He had a good reason for choosing Texas.
Did you collect baseball cards growing up? Then you must read Matt Breen’s series about a hobby that has boomed during the pandemic. Matt found a few local places to buy cards and looked at which stats should be on the back of today’s cards (T.J. Furman’s graphics are really cool). It all makes me want to run out and buy a few packs.
Today: Gibson starts the series opener in Arizona, 9:40 p.m.
Tomorrow: Suárez faces the Diamondbacks, 9:40 p.m.
Thursday: Wheeler takes on Arizona in the finale, 3:40 p.m.
Friday: Phillies begin a three-game series in San Diego, 10:10 p.m.
Saturday: Nola vs. the Padres and his older brother, Austin, 8:40 p.m.
Stat of the day
As you’ve probably heard, the Phillies have the softest remaining schedule of the NL East contenders. How soft? Thirty of their final 44 games are against sub-.500 teams.
Now, consider this: Through Sunday, those seven teams — the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Marlins, Rockies, Cubs, Orioles, and Pirates — had a combined 33-75 record since the trade deadline and were outscored by a 666-457 margin.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: I look forward to reading Extra Innings every day! I love the insight that you provide. Do you think Aaron Nola’s problems could be related to the shortened season last year? With the reduced number of innings, maybe his arm hasn’t responded to the increased workload this year. Thanks. — Steve C., via email
Answer: Hi, Steve. Thanks for reading and for the kind words.
I’ve asked a lot of people, including Nola and pitching coach Caleb Cotham, about this. Nobody seems to think fatigue is the issue. But I don’t think it can be discounted. It isn’t so much last season, because every pitcher is readjusting to a normal workload. Nola has made more starts (103) than any other pitcher since 2018 and thrown the second-most innings (620 2/3). He works hard between starts and is well-conditioned, but given that workload, there must be a toll to pay.