Manager Joe Girardi greeted the position players via a Zoom meeting Sunday night, and the Phillies’ first full-squad workout is scheduled for Monday morning at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla.
“It is awkward,” Girardi said of his virtual welcome to spring training. “I know for the players it’s shorter so they probably like it. We don’t have as many people to introduce and as many people to talk, but I’ll spend more time talking to them individually as I’m walking around the field. That’s kind of where I’ll be delivering my messages. The opening call will be more so the new guys can put names to a face. But it is awkward and I’m really hoping this comes to an end soon so we can have normal team meetings.”
That’s probably not going to happen until at least the middle of this season, but the countdown to the first exhibition game is on. That will come Sunday against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla.
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Leftovers from Larry
The great thing about a Larry Bowa interview is you always have more than you need when you are finished talking to the living legend. The great thing about having a newsletter is it leaves you with a place to use the leftover topics from an interview.
It’s always great to be able to get Bowa’s take on the team at the start of spring training because he’s never shy about expressing his opinion, although like most baseball people, he admits to being overly optimistic sometimes when he’s working under the Florida sunshine and palm trees.
“The one thing that stands out in my mind whenever I go to spring training is that no matter who you are or where you play, every team thinks they are going to be in the World Series,” Bowa said. “That’s just the mindset. You could have lost a hundred games and you step into the clubhouse and you feel like you’re going to win the World Series.”
With that full disclosure, Bowa continued his assessment of the 2021 Phillies.
“I do feel a different vibe with the pitchers,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of competition, especially in the bullpen. You can feel that. It’s not just kids competing, either. You have some guys who signed minor-league contracts and obviously they want to play in the big leagues. They want to continue their careers. I think [team president] Dave Dombrowski did a pretty good job of signing people with experience and if those guys do what they’re supposed to, the bullpen should be very much improved.”
In the early days of camp, Bowa has also sensed an edge to the players.
“I think there are a lot of guys who are really upset that a lot of the so-called experts have picked the Phillies third or even fourth,” he said. “You can hear some guys chirping a little bit about that, which is good. I like it when they show up with a little bit of an edge. And, of course, I like our lineup a lot. I think we’re going to score runs.”
Bowa’s first impression of Dombrowski has also been very favorable.
“I think his record speaks for itself, but he obviously wants to win,” he said. “He came in and said, ‘I understand we have some holes to fix.’ He called me a couple of times and asked me what I saw and thought about last season. He knew the bullpen had to be a priority, and I gave him my thoughts about Didi [Gregorius] and I told him about how much he could help us because he comes up big late in games.
“Dave talks and he communicates. I know he won’t listen to every word, but he asks for opinions and to me that’s a good trait for the guy who is running the show. You try to get opinions, and obviously when push comes to shove, he’s the one who has to make the deal.”
Bowa also offered some opinions about first baseman Rhys Hoskins, left fielder Andrew McCutchen, and Odubel Herrera’s attempted comeback.
“Hoskins, I think, is going to be ready to go,” Bowa said.
That would be great news since the first baseman missed the final 19 games of last season after suffering a freak elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery early in the offseason.
“Just from watching drills, McCutchen is noticeably a lot quicker moving around,” Bowa said. “He looks like the old Cutch. And Odubel looks great. I don’t know how much he has lost from a skillset standpoint by not playing for so long, but this is the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. You can tell he worked really hard.”
The player Bowa is most eager to see in 2021 is third baseman Alec Bohm.
“I don’t like to overreact after a 60-game season ... but I can’t wait to see Bohm for 162 games,” Bowa said. “I think this guy has a chance to be a very, very good hitter and he has really improved a lot at third base. His work ethic is great, and to me, he has a chance to be a middle-of-the-lineup bat for a long time.”
Scott Lauber writes about how Bryce Harper has emerged as a more mature superstar during his two seasons with the Phillies.
A lot of teams are entertaining the idea of a six-man starting rotation this season, but Girardi announced last week that he will continue to use the standard five-man rotation. Two jobs are still up for grabs.
Pitcher Chase Anderson said one of the main reasons he signed with the Phillies was he wanted to throw to All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. Zack Wheeler said the same thing last year after he signed with the team.
Reliever Brandon Kintzler explains why he took a minor-league deal with the Phillies after saving 12 games and posting a 2.22 ERA last season as Miami’s closer.
Odubel Herrera has looked good early in spring training, but he has much to prove.
The Phillies lineup from last season is mostly back together, and it should pack a lot of home run power with Harper and Hoskins leading the way.
Realmuto is in a cast to protect the fractured thumb on his throwing hand, but he’s still on target to be in the lineup on opening day.
Bowa also talked last week about how happy he was to be back in Clearwater for another spring training. He is 75 and, as Girardi put it, “he looks like he could still play.”
Today: Phillies hold first full-squad workout of spring training.
Sunday: Exhibition opener vs. Detroit in Lakeland, 1:05 p.m.
March 1: Home exhibition opener in Clearwater vs. Baltimore, 1:05 p.m.
March 29: Final exhibition game vs. Toronto, 1:05 p.m.
April 1: Opening day vs. Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
The free-agent drama lasted throughout the winter and into 2019 spring training before the San Diego Padres signed Manny Machado to a 10-year deal worth $300 million and the Phillies followed a few days later by inking Bryce Harper to a 13-year deal worth $330 million. It was inevitable then that the two players would be compared through their contracts, and even though the MLB Network recently ranked Machado as the 18th-best player right now and put Harper at No. 22, the numbers indicate the Phillies have had the better player over the first two years of the deal.
Harper has a 6.2 fWAR (Fangraphs) and bWAR (BaseballReference) compared to a 5.6 fWAR and 5.7 bWAR for Machado during their first two seasons under their huge contracts. The two have both hit 48 home runs, but Harper leads Machado in almost every other offensive category.
Here’s the list:
Batting average: .269 to .262, advantage Machado.
On-base percentage: ,385 to .344, advantage Harper.
Slugging percentage: .518 to .494, advantage Harper.
OPS: .903 to .839, advantage Harper.
Extra-base hits: 96-84, advantage Harper.
Stolen bases: 23 in 28 attempts to 11 -n 17 attempts, advantage Harper.
Walks: 148 to 91, advantage Harper.
RBIs: 147-132, advantage Harper.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: The individual decisions the Phillies made (Realmuto, Gregorius) all made sense, but my concern is you end up looking at pretty much exactly the same lineup as last year and last year they were a pretty underperforming, uninspiring crew. Any good reasons to think the result will be different this time around? — Joseph K. via email
Answer: Thanks for the question, Joseph, and also thank you for taking the time to read Extra Innings. You are correct that the Phillies made good decisions in re-signing J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius, and you are also right in saying the 2021 lineup is going to look a lot like the 2020 lineup. That, however, is a good thing.
The lineup was not what kept the Phillies from getting to the playoffs a year ago, and neither was the starting pitching. It was about the historically bad bullpen. The Phillies averaged 5.10 runs, which ranked fifth in baseball. They scored five runs or more in 31 of 60 games. Only the Dodgers (39), Padres (37), Braves (34), Giants (32), and Rockies (32) scored five runs or more more often than the Phillies.
The Phillies’ problem is they went only 23-8 in those games when they scored five or more. Their .742 winning percentage in games when they scored five or more was the fifth worst in the National League, and that can be improved with a competent bullpen.