What happened in 2023?

Let’s take a moment to remember how things looked last spring;

Still dizzy from the excitement of the World Series run, I went in early with my 2023 season prediction…

It turned out the 2023 Phils were beatable but they had improved. They ended the season second in the NL East behind the Atlanta Braves and with a winning record of 90-72. This is worth noting, the Phillies hadn’t won 90 games in over 10 years. They secured a wild card spot in the playoffs and we don’t need to dwell on how that ended.

Turner was the big signing last year and came in to play short stop, moving Bryson Stott over to second base. The loss of Hoskins had left a hole at first base, filled and bettered by Bryce Harper’s return in July.

Fans getting behind Trea Turner and helping him out of his slump seemed to catch the mood of the season somehow. The Phillies give you your fair share of ups and downs, but we all, players and fans, wanted more than ever to get back to the postseason. As the great philosopher Dr. Zeus tells us, “when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done…” But you can always beat the slump with a dose of brotherly love.

The Phils entered the 2022 post-season as plucky underdogs. That wasn’t the case in 2023. Fans expected them to make the playoffs and wanted the energy and excitement of 2022 all over again. We nearly went all the way too, if it hadn’t been for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It wasn’t them? Oh yeah, it was those other Titans of baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Phils have been a little sleepier this spring, which is probably no bad thing but letting Rhys Hoskins go feels like a mistake. Rob Thompson is on record as saying Hoskins would have improved the roster had he still been here.

Notable comings and goings

Locking down the Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler contracts have been the main headlines.

Whit Merrifield has been brought in on a one year contract as a right handed hitter for his ability to play both the outfield and 2nd base. This adds some depth. Nick Castellanos has said of Merrifield, “He is a complete baseball player.. He plays the game the right way.” I’m willing to buy in on Merrifield, I’m just not there yet.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

By the time you read this, we should know the fate of Cristian Pache, Johan Rojas, and Jake Cave who have been jostling for the final spots on the 26 man starting roster. The most likely outcome will be Rojas and Cave; in, Pache; out. Rojas seems to be a favourite despite failing to show up at the plate this spring.*

Areas of weakness that still need addressing

Taijuan Walker. He had a hit and miss season last year, great when on form in June, but a disastrous ending with Thompson finally losing faith into the playoffs and Walker taking to Twitter (X) to voice that he felt ‘disrespected’.

The issue last year was the velocity of his fast ball which seemed to come and go. Walker has said that his goal going into 2024 is consistency, to keep strong and to keep the speed up. The difficulty will be that injury has delayed his spring training start and so he is already playing catch up.**

Against the Orioles this spring, the velocity still wasn’t there. Walker gave up seven runs in just over two innings.

One to watch (or maybe two)

Bryson Stott could have a Gold Glove year in 2024.

Orion Kerkering is also worth watching. He showed his talent last year, pitching both in the regular and postseason. Now that he has the experience, if he can work on mastering a greater variety of pitches, this could be breakout Kerkering season.

How the 2024 season will unfold

The Brandon Marsh and Bryce Harper injuries seem to have come and gone for now. I think the Phils head into 2024 a more coherent and focused group than in previous seasons. Will the bats be unnervingly quiet in April? Probably – it’s the Phillies, but they are more experienced and settled than in previous years.

They’re good enough to win more than 90 games this year. We’ll see Harper become one of the greatest first basemen in the game, Zack Wheeler will win the Cy Young, Bryson Stott will win Gold Glove. The London Series is going to be amazing and, to top it all, the Phillies will be back in the World Series.

Am I chugging the preseason Kool-Aid again? Yeah, probably, but come on, we’re talking about the Fightins here, the Fightins! Said, said!

* As I hit print, the news came in that Jake Cave had been traded to the Rockies! With Cave gone, it looks like the Phillies keep both Rojas and Pache on the roster. I’m happy with that.

** And another update flying in; Walker has a right shoulder injury and will start the season on the 15-day IL. That could leave the fifth starter position open for Spencer Turnbull. Or would the Phillies pursue Jordan Montgomery? Let’s see.

TOM BAKER is the Philadelphia Phillies correspondent for Bat Flips and Nerds. You can read more of his articles here and follow him on X (Twitter) @TomBaker1981.

Featured image – Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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