MLB is set to start on July 24th, with every team playing 60 regular-season games in 2020. In a shortened year, the Phillies are hoping to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. For that to happen, certain guys need to step-up, and here are three X-Factors for the Phillies in 2020.
3. Zack Wheeler, SP
The Phillies were in desperate need of pitching and signed Zack Wheeler to a 5 yr 118M deal in December. Did the Phillies overpay him? Probably a bit, but with where the market was at, if Philly didn’t give him that deal, he likely would have signed elsewhere. After a great year in 2018, Wheeler had a solid, but not outstanding year in 2019 as he posted an ERA of 3.96 in 31 starts for the Mets.
Considering the current state of the Phillies rotation, Wheeler needs to be a reliable number two starter. Jake Arrieta is coming off the worst year of his career as well as an injury. Zach Eflin hasn’t been able to put it together for a full season. Vince Velasquez can’t keep the ball in the ballpark. Nick Pivetta has been terrible to this point in his career. Spencer Howard may not be MLB-ready until next season.
What am I trying to get at here? The pressure is on Wheeler to pitch well in 2020. In a shortened season, there will be little room for error when Wheeler and Aaron Nola pitch. The back-end of the rotation simply isn’t reliable enough. If Wheeler can pitch to an ERA that hovers around 3.30-3.40 as opposed to 3.80-3.90, it will go a long way for this team.
2. Andrew McCutchen, LF/DH
With the NL absorbing the DH, Andrew McCutchen may occupy this spot for 2020. It’s also entirely possible the Phillies will put ‘Cutch back in left field with Jay Bruce designated hitting. Either way, McCutchen needs to return to the form he was at before he tore his ACL last season.
While McCutchen will never regain his MVP form, he’s still an excellent hitter. As the Phillies’ leadoff guy, ‘Cutch posted an OPS of .834 with an OPS+ of 115 in 59 games in 2019. Once McCutchen got hurt, things began to go downhill for the team. After starting the year 33-27 and in first place with ‘Cutch, the team went 48-54 after he got injured, ultimately finishing fourth in the NL East.
If he again is a reliable leadoff hitter, it will be huge for the Phillies in this shortened campaign. If there is one benefit for the Phillies of having the season delayed, McCutchen will now be ready for opening day.
1. Aaron Nola, SP
2018 was an incredible season for Aaron Nola. At age 25, he carried the Phillies rotation, while posting an ERA of 2.37 in 33 starts and finishing third in the NL Cy Young voting. However, 2019 was not the same. While he was far from terrible, Nola didn’t replicate the same success as he posted an ERA of 3.87 in 34 starts.
No, Aaron Nola does not need to be as good as he was in 2018 for the Phillies this season. However, he has to be better than he was in 2019. If he can regain control of his fastball, and post a Sub-3.00 ERA in 2020, it will be huge for this team. As I mentioned above, there will be a ton of pressure on Zack Wheeler to be a high-end number two starter. However, that won’t even matter if Nola can’t establish himself as an ace.
The most significant point of emphasis for Nola is simply keeping the ball in the yard. Last year, he allowed 27 home runs after allowing fewer than 18 in his career in the first four years. He also has to work on limiting walks as his 80 bases on balls allowed were far and away a career-high. If the Phillies get a version of Nola that is closer to his 2018 form, it will be huge in helping to get the team back to the playoffs.
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