Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

The Phillies path to one of the Wild Cards won’t be easy either


The Phillies have a tough path to navigate through in the National League. (John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

When the Philadelphia Phillies introduced free-agent signings Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius last month, general manager Matt Klentak said that he believes the team is capable of winning what’s expected to be a very competitive National League East in 2020.

Let’s say they don’t, though. What does the path to securing one of the two National League Wild Card spots look like? Well, not a whole lot easier.

Caesars Sportsbook currently has the Phillies over/under for wins in 2020 at 85.5. Even if they finished slightly under at 84 or 85 wins, it would represent the team’s first winning season since 2011. There won’t be any moral victories in 2020, though. As Klentak said earlier this offseason, it’s time for the Phillies to win – right now.

The Braves, despite losing Josh Donaldson, have an over/under for wins in 2020 at 91.5, the highest total in the National League East. While they lost one of their best offensive pieces, the Braves still return a pretty imposing lineup and have vastly improved their bullpen. The two-time defending National League East Champions are the clear-cut favorites to win the division in 2020.

That leaves two Wild Card spots in the National League. However, two other teams in the National League East have higher expected win totals; the Washington Nationals and New York Mets. If three teams in the National League East win more games than the Phillies – as they did in 2019 – the Phillies won’t be playing in the postseason.

It does seem possible that the defending World Series Champion Nationals take a step back in 2020 or that the Mets don’t fulfill the potential of their roster. The Nationals lost Anthony Rendon in free agency and have an aging starting rotation. Something always seems to go wrong for the Mets, who have hired two managers this offseason.

That said, the National League East isn’t going to be the only division that has something to say about the Wild Card race.

There’s four legitimate playoff contenders in the National League Central.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the division a year ago and reached the NLCS. Despite losing Christian Yelich in early September, the Milwaukee Brewers won the second National League Wild Card spot. The Chicago Cubs haven’t done much in the way of adding to their roster this offseason, but they won 84 games in 2019 and probably aren’t going to to fall off a cliff this season.

The sleeper in the division is the Cincinnati Reds, who have added both Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos this offseason to an offense that already included Eugenio Suarez and Aristides Aquino. They’ll hope for a bounce-back season from former National League MVP Joey Votto, but the Reds also project to have strong pitching. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer give the Reds the chance to have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. Raisel Iglesias was underwhelming in 2019, but was one of the more effective closers in the league between 2017 and 2018.

Even if we assume that the Los Angeles Dodgers are likely to win their eighth consecutive National League West title, the division is home to two other playoff contenders.

Quietly, the Arizona Diamondbacks won 85 games in 2019, despite trading Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros before the July 31 trade deadline. Torey Lovullo’s team added Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun this offseason.

The bigger threat may be the San Diego Padres, who are banking on a better second season from Manny Machado. They’ll also hope for a full season from Fernando Tatis Jr., who hit .317 and homered 22 times in 84 games a season ago. The Padres acquired Tommy Pham and Drew Pomeranz this offseason as well. Kirby Yates is one of the best closers in the sport. Chris Paddack won’t be on an innings limit in 2020. The Padres possess an elite farm system. There’s a lot to like about the future in San Diego, a future that could see the Padres content for a Wild Card spot as soon as this season.

None of this is to say that the Phillies won’t make the playoffs. They added Wheeler and Gregorius this offseason. They are unlikely to lose two-thirds of their starting outfield this season before mid-June, which they did in 2019. Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm, the organization’s top two prospects, are expected to make their major league debuts this season. The Phillies almost certainly will enter September with a chance to reach the postseason, just like the past two seasons.

It’s funny, though, had their been a second Wild Card in 2005, the 88-74 Phillies would have reached the postseason. Even with a second Wild Card, the Phillies may need to get to 90 wins to reach the postseason in any form in 2020. They’ve improved this offseason, but have they improved enough to win at least nine more games than a season ago? We’re not far from beginning to find out.

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