Neil Walker will be suiting up for his sixth Major League team come Opening Day on Friday. The Philadelphia Phillies utility man has been around the block long enough to know what a potentially elite lineup looks like.
The longtime Pittsburgh Pirate has spent three of the last four seasons in the NL East, two with the New York Mets (2016-17) and one with the Miami Marlins (2019), meaning he has seen the Phillies often.
Interestingly enough, Walker told the collective media Sunday, including Phillies Nation’s Tim Kelly and Destiny Lugardo, that he saw the depth of the Phillies lineup from the other side and believes it is the strength of the 2020 team.
“Having been with the Mets for two years and the Marlins last year, obviously we are playing the Phillies 18 or 19 times a year so you get a really good idea of the capabilities of teams and kind of soft spots and strengths of teams,” Walker said. “Over the last several years especially, you look at this lineup and you are going ‘OK, where are the weaknesses from an offensive standpoint?’”
This past offseason, the Phillies went out and signed shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year/$14 million contract. Walker, who played with Gregorius in 2018 with the Yankees, said a signing like that brings extra depth.
“Especially when I look at it this year when you add a guy like Didi Gregorious, who I played with in New York, and (have) Jay Bruce and obviously Andrew (McCutchen), when you look at the lineup there are not many holes,” Walker said.
McCutchen, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and Gregorious are expected to fill the one through six spots in the lineup in some order. Walker mentioned thinking about how the bottom half of the lineup will pan out is as fun as the top half.
“Then you start to think about who is going to hit six or seventh tonight? Is it going to be Rhys (Hoskins) and Jay Bruce hitting six/seven in this lineup? Scott Kingery hit eighth yesterday and he is typically a guy that you probably see in the one/two-hole,” Walker said excitedly. “It is scary especially from the other side and I am happy that I am on this side of it but I kind of feel for the pitching staffs in this division because it is not going to be easy to get through this lineup four or five times.”
Walker brought up Saturday’s exhibition against the Washington Nationals as an example of the damage the Phillies lineup can do:
“You saw just yesterday in such a small sample size even though it is somewhat of a throwaway game, you look up after six outs on the road and there are seven runs scored because you had two-three run home runs,” Walker said.
Saturday was just an exhibition game, one where the Phillies scored seven runs and recorded eight hits. But Walker made a point of emphasis that the strength of the team’s lineup is not just the power that is there but the little things that each hitter brings to the table.
“There are guys all up and down this lineup that are capable of doing that but at the same time, this is not going to be a lineup that is strictly depending on the three-run homers over the course of the games,” Walker said. “You have guys that grind out at-bats, make pitchers work, understand leverage counts and things along those lines. I think it is going to be a difficult life for a lot of pitchers, not just in the NL East but the AL East for that matter too.”
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