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J.T. Realmuto: We expect to compete for NL East title


J.T. Realmuto is entering his second season with the Phillies. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Even as J.T. Realmuto’s uncertain future looms over Spring Training, the two-time All-Star catcher knows he’s going to be a part of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020. And he’s excited for the prospects of the team in the first season of the Joe Girardi era.

Outside of Spectrum Field, there’s less optimism about the Phillies chances to win what’s expected to be a heavily-competitive National League East in 2020.

USA Today‘s MLB writers project that the Phillies will win 85 games in 2019, but tie with the New York Mets for third place in the National League East. FanGraphs‘ Depth Charts have the Phillies finishing at 81-81 for a second consecutive season. And the always controversial PECOTA projections believe the Phillies will actually regress from 2019 and go 77-85 in 2020.

So do Realmuto and the Phillies take it personally that there doesn’t seem to be any external belief that they will reach the postseason – or finish in sole possession of one of the top three slots in the National League East?

“Yes, absolutely,” Realmuto told Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “But the year we had last year, you can’t really blame them. So, with that being said, it will allow us to play with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, which isn’t always a bad thing, especially with the group we have because in this locker room, nobody thinks we’re a fourth-place team. We play in a tough division so I can see why people would say that. But this isn’t a fourth-place team. We expect to be right there in the hunt to win the division at the end of the season.”

Realmuto had a very successful first season in Philadelphia in 2019, as he was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove Award and was named a Silver Slugger Award winner. Not a ton else went right in what turned into one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.

The Phillies bullpen was devastated by injuries, as Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez were the only relievers on the Opening Day roster that didn’t spend extended time on the injured list. Odubel Herrera, the team’s Opening Day center fielder, was arrested on Memorial Day and ultimately suspended for the remainder of the season after a domestic incident with his girlfriend. Less than 10 days later, Andrew McCutchen, the team’s Opening Day left fielder, suffered a season-ending ACL tear.

In December, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told Phillies Nation that he believed that the team could win the National League East in 2020, citing how many things went wrong a season ago.

“Yeah, I do,” Klentak said. “We talked about this last week at the MLB Winter Meetings quite a bit – we won 81 games last year and had a lot of things go wrong. Now, when you bring back the core of that team – that is still very young…still very talented – you add a new manager, new pitching coach, these two new guys here [Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius] and whatever else we may do for the rest of the offseason, I think you’re looking at a very competitive club.”

Beyond injuries, there’s reason to think that Rhys Hoskins – who hit .180 after the All-Star Break – will have a much better 2020 season. Jean Segura is slimmed down after a disappointing 2019 season. Bryce Harper had a very nice 2019 season, but is hoping for more after a much more stable offseason than he had a year ago. And Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm, the organization’s top two prospects, are expected to make their major league debuts in 2020.

If there’s anyone you can be sure will put forward elite production in 2020, it’s Realmuto. While he may struggle to top a 2019 season where he posted a 5.7 fWAR and 12 defensive runs saved, you can bet he’ll put together another impressive campaign in a contract year.

Realistically, the question surrounding the 2020 Phillies isn’t going to be whether they are able to improve on the .500 season they had a year ago. The Phillies will be judged by whether their improvement in 2020 is enough to at least win one of the two National League Wild Card spots. As the 2020 regular season nears, Realmuto and the Phillies are aiming higher than just one of those two Wild Card spots.

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