Philadelphia Phillies: Shortened season could help

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

We don’t know when the MLB season might start, but this strange set of circumstances might actually serve to benefit the Philadelphia Phillies.

With all sports appropriately on the back burner during this unprecedented time, we face an uncertain future. Just when will we get back to playing? Will entire seasons have to be cancelled? It’s far too soon to tell, of course, but I personally am going to operate under the assumption that we will see the Philadelphia Phillies and get some kind of Major League Baseball season in 2020.

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It won’t be the typical 162-game slate, not unless baseball’s initial two-week delay ends up being all that’s needed. Still, even in this best-case scenario, it doesn’t seem likely that MLB will merely extend the year by two weeks, the postseason taking until nearly Thanksgiving to conclude.

No, you’d have to believe that the baseball schedule could end up looking something it did in 1995 when they played 144 games following the settling of the strike that wiped out the previous year’s final 40+ plus games and the entire playoffs. Or maybe we can even look at the 1981 season, which also was abbreviated because of a strike, for guidance. That year, teams ended up playing around 105 games, though it varied from club to club because of the unforeseen split in the schedule.

These are not perfect comparisons, not by a long shot, but they’re about all we have to draw on from the last few decades. The bottom line is that we don’t know if we are looking at a prospective schedule that will reduce the 162-game marathon to simply a somewhat shorter one or a situation where we lose a significant portion of games.

In any case, I believe that the Phillies stand to benefit here. The later games start, and the fewer that are ultimately played, the better their chances of succeeding in 2020. This success doesn’t necessarily translate to World Series glory, but their chances of at least punching a postseason ticket increase with a smaller sample size to draw from.

As of late, the Phillies were penciled in as low as fourth place in the very competitive National League East. Even optimistic outlooks had them duking it out for one of the wild card slots. You couldn’t really argue with the reasoning, either. The Phillies’ rotation seemed to be an issue once you got past the first two starters, the bullpen was uninspiring, and there were question marks on offense. That just about covers everything, eh?

New manager Joe Girardi figured to be worth a few more wins than his predecessor; however, the team as a whole didn’t look like it was better than divisional foes in Atlanta and Washington, possibly New York as well.

But now, with a late start to the year, injured players have an opportunity to get healthy and be ready for the start of the season, whenever it comes. This is key for Andrew McCutchen, who will be a boon to the Phillies’ offense if he can reclaim the leadoff spot and deliver the same kind of production that we saw from him before his ACL tear last year.

The bullpen should get healthier and be better prepared as well, with Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter now looking like viable candidates thanks to the extra time. Whether or not you think they are great contributors is beside the point; every healthy body will help. It’ll be up to them to deliver once we get back to normal here.

As for the “setback” news about Seranthony Dominguez that came out this week, maybe it won’t be so bad, because missing the next 6-8 weeks won’t be as much of a problem. If he is determined to need surgery, then it’s still a disaster no matter the length of the season, but at least now there won’t be immediate pressure for him to come back if the situation is ultimately deemed less serious.

On the rotation front, it’s easier to hide things and get by with a lean group during a season of, say, 110 games than a season of 162 games. It still won’t be easy, and it’s a thin margin for error. But fewer innings to eat means that a greater percentage of them can be thrown by capable pitchers instead of fringe guys, at least in theory.

Essentially, this all comes down to the fact that the (often interminably) long MLB season means that the cream rises to the top. After 162 games, the best teams show it. But while it wouldn’t be total smoke and mirrors, this flawed Phillies club has a better shot this year if the season gets whittled down to 140 games, with increasing odds at 130 games, 120 games, and so on.

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There is a cutoff for an appropriate number of games to play, and MLB surely won’t force things this year if a potential season ends up being too short. But until that point, we should all operate under the tentative assumption that we’ll get a baseball season that’s long enough to be worth our time. If it becomes more of a sprint, watch out for the Phillies. While they’re likely not in a position to make waves if this were a “normal” season, a few hot weeks could be all you need this year, and they’re capable of delivering and putting themselves in the mix.