Andrew McCutchen led off for the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Day in 2019, arguably one of the most anticipated seasons in franchise. McCutchen launched a 428-foot leadoff home run in the Phillies first at-bat, electrifying a crowd at Citizens Bank Park that was already rather ecstatic for the Phillies debut of, among others, Bryce Harper. McCutchen’s home run was the first of 10 runs that the Phillies would score on Opening Day, as they made a statement against the defending National League East Champion Atlanta Braves.
It was a moment that almost felt too good to be true. It turns out it was.
While the Phillies would sweep the Braves in the opening series of the season, the Braves enter the final day of the 2019 season with 97 wins, having clinched their second consecutive National League East title. The Phillies, meanwhile, are 16 games back of the Braves, and need a win Sunday afternoon against the Miami Marlins to snap a streak of seven consecutive non-winning seasons.
Whether the Phillies win Sunday or not, 2019 will go down as one of the most disappointing in franchise history. The future of manager Gabe Kapler is, at best, murky. The Phillies are going to finish in fourth place in the National League East, behind three teams – the Braves, Washington Nationals and New York Mets – who seem to have done a much better job at developing young talent. With a world of uncertainty in the starting rotation behind RHP Aaron Nola, there’s a ton of public pressure on general manager Matt Klentak, even if a March extension through 2022 makes his dismissal unlikely.
McCutchen hasn’t played since tearing his ACL on June 3 in San Diego. Prior to Sunday’s season finale McCutchen issued a heartfelt Instagram post with a simple message – things will be different next year:
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I’ll never forget this moment when I lead off the szn with a homer! Expectations were high and then BANG💥,ACL😔! What a whirlwind of a year it has been! Man did I miss going to work with my teammates and playing in front of you fans, but I know this is only preparing me for something far greater. So while others are prepping for the offszn, I’ve been getting ready for next szn. 😈🤫. We’ll be better. Believe it
Prior to his injury, McCutchen was a National League All-Star candidate. The former National League MVP slashed .256/.378/.457 with 10 home runs, 29 RBIs, 43 walks and a 1.5 fWAR in 59 games. The Phillies were a half game up on the Braves in the National League East when McCutchen went down, turning his injury into the symbolic moment where things went downhill for the 2019 team.
The Phillies struggled mightily to replace McCutchen at the top of the lineup. Beyond replacing him in the lineup, McCutchen was the starting left fielder and played 93.1 innings in center field after Odubel Herrera’s arrest (and eventual suspension) for domestic violence. McCutchen will play next season at 33, is coming off a torn ACL and has -45 defensive runs saved in center field since 2016, so it feels extremely unlikely that he’ll be a part of the plan in center field moving forward. But that only serves to remind you that beyond a need to rebuild both their starting rotation and bullpen, the Phillies have an uncertain future in center field as well.
If you add a healthy McCutchen back into a lineup that includes Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Scott Kingery, the Phillies should be able to field a formidable lineup in 2020. Whether Klentak’s front office – assuming it is still his front office – is able to add enough pitching around the lineup to contend in a crowded National League East remains to be seen.
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