Phillies

Checking in on Phillies' division rivals as camps fully open

Checking in on Phillies' division rivals as camps fully open

A year ago at this time, the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado saga was still plodding along as full-squad workouts began.

Phillies players, the fans, those covering it — everyone felt the fatigue.

The rest of the division?

• The Nationals were preparing for their first year without Harper, though their first with Patrick Corbin, who signed a $140 million contract that took all of 10 months to pay off permanently.

• The Braves were gearing up to defend a division title after taking a big risk on Josh Donaldson, who had missed 49.1 percent of games the previous two seasons to injury. Donaldson was the only free-agent addition the Braves made in 2019 until bringing in Dallas Keuchel in June.

• The main intrigue with the Mets at this time last year was what they'd do with their starting pitchers. Would they capitalize on Noah Syndergaard's value and deal him? What about free-agent-to-be Zack Wheeler? The Mets had a streaky season, a terrible first-year experience with Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, a weird trade deadline, and ended up three games out of the playoffs, with Marcus Stroman in the rotation and Wheeler likely to leave.

• And of course, the Marlins — the 2019 Marlins who won 17.5% of their games against the Phillies. They were 57-105 overall, 10-9 against the Phils.

Here's what changed this offseason:

Phillies

Additions: Zack Wheeler, Didi Gregorius, manager Joe Girardi

Subtractions: Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Brad Miller, Drew Smyly, Jason Vargas

Returning from injury: Andrew McCutchen, Jake Arrieta, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez(?)

Two huge, necessary additions but still so much uncertainty because the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation and almost every role in the bullpen is a question mark.

Mets

Additions: Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, manager Carlos Beltran Luis Rojas

Subtractions: Zack Wheeler, Todd Frazier

Returning from injury: Yoenis Cespedes

The Mets are entering 2020 feeling good about the back end of their bullpen. If Diaz rebounds, this really could be a lights-out unit with the underrated Seth Lugo pitching the seventh, Betances the eighth and Diaz the ninth. 

The Mets badly need at least one good bullpen year to maximize Jacob deGrom's value. Somehow, someway, they went 14-18 in each of the last two seasons in deGrom's starts despite his league-best 2.05 ERA.

They also have to feel like anything they get in 2020 from Cespedes or Cano is a plus. Cano was a disaster last season and Cespedes is finally in camp after missing most of the last three seasons because of injury.

A big question is whether Pete Alonso is actually a 50-home run hitter. Poll Mets fans or those around the team and they'll say yes. I'm skeptical. What if he hits 32 this season? How much different do the Mets look if he's just a pretty good power hitter and not a perennial high-30s/low-40s guy like Carlos Delgado?

Why couldn't Matt Klentak find a J.D. Davis in any of the last several offseasons?

Braves

Additions: Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Will Smith, Travis d'Arnaud

Subtractions: Josh Donaldson, Julio Teheran, Brian McCann, Matt Joyce

Returning from injury: Darren O'Day, A.J. Minter

Hamels is injured and probably won't be able to contribute until at least a month or so into the season. That hurts the Braves, who lost Keuchel to the White Sox and will again be reliant on young starting pitchers Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Sean Newcomb. They need to hope that 2019 was a blip and not a trend for Mike Foltynewicz.

The Braves have the two best position players in the division in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman. Ozuna helps mitigate the loss of Donaldson but Ozuna is not the hitter that 2019 Donaldson was for the Braves.

Don't let the generic name fool ya, Will Smith is a nasty lefty who struck out 167 in 118 innings the last two seasons and has been one of the most reliable closers over that time.

Nationals

Additions: Will Harris, Starlin Castro, Eric Thames

Subtractions: Anthony Rendon, Gerardo Parra, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams

When you lose Anthony Rendon you cannot possibly be as good as you were a year ago. Especially when Rendon had a near-perfect year for a baseball player, hitting .319/.412/.598 with the most doubles in the league, the most RBI in the majors despite missing 16 games, a career-high in home runs and only six more strikeouts than walks.

Washington's biggest move was retaining Stephen Strasburg, but this new seven-year, $245 million contract for Strasburg seems destined to play out poorly. He had a storybook contract year, staying the healthiest he'd been in five years, leading the league in innings and wins and then totally dominating in the postseason. This contract runs through his age-38 season.

The Nats could still match last season's 93 wins, particularly because they're unlikely to experience two straight months of bullpen meltdowns as they did last April and May.

You have to wonder about the World Series hangovers for Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin. Not only did they combine for 583 regular-season innings, they also appeared in a combined 20 playoff games. The Nats rode their horses harder in October than any team in years. It worked out magnificently for them, but this wouldn't be the first set of rotation-mates to experience lingering soreness from all that October stress.

Marlins

Additions: Corey Dickerson, Matt Kemp, Matt Joyce, Francisco Cervelli, Brandon Kintzler

Subtractions: Starlin Castro, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Martin Prado, Sergio Romo

The Marlins made two trades in 2019 that you just have to snicker at. Midway through then-28-year-old reliever Nick Anderson's breakout year, they traded him to Tampa, because he was apparently too good. Anderson now looks like one of the five best relievers in baseball. He struck out 110 batters in 65 innings and had a 2.11 ERA after the deadline with Tampa. 

As a player with just one year of big-league experience but immense arm talent, Anderson might have the most appealing contractual situation of any reliever in the majors.

Miami also, midway through Zac Gallen's promising rookie year, traded the 24-year-old right-handed starting pitcher to Arizona for 21-year-old shortstop Jazz Chisholm, who spent the year at Double A. Some really like Chisholm's upside and think the Marlins made a shrewd move trading for a player who might better fit their next window to contend. Maybe that is true.

In the meantime, those two moves made things easier on the rest of the NL East.

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Toronto's 3-month shutdown doesn't bode well for any pro sport

Toronto's 3-month shutdown doesn't bode well for any pro sport

The announcement Tuesday that the city of Toronto has banned all public events through June 30 is not a good sign that games in any North American professional sports league will be back by then.

This is the longest-ranged shutdown any city has enacted, a span of three months. What is more likely: That only Toronto makes this decision, or that by the end of April many cities in the U.S. have followed suit?

In Toronto, this pertains to city-permitted events such as festivals and parades, city-led conferences and cultural programs, and major mass participation events organized by external groups at civic centers and squares, parks and public spaces. It's logical that sporting events could follow.

Previously, we knew that MLB's regular season would begin no earlier than late May or early June. That is an optimistic target date. If the season somehow does begin by June, it will likely be in empty stadiums. This is going to be gradual. It's unrealistic to expect 30,000 fans plus hundreds of stadium workers to be carefree and packed into a venue in just a few months.

"If you have municipalities doing that, to me it's tough to open your doors at a ballpark," Jim Salisbury said on our Phillies Talk podcast Tuesday.

"You think, well, OK, play with no fans, but they need personnel in the ballpark just to get the ballpark open. These clubhouses are big complexes, multi-room complexes. You're gonna have an expanded roster of like 30 players, then you'll have guys on the IL, 10-plus man coaching staffs and video staffs and analytics staffs and athletic training staffs and there's even the guys in there nightly who do the drug testing. 

"Your clubhouse complexes are very populated. There's a lot of people in there, and you don't know where people are going in those 10, 11 hours that they're out of the ballpark. You have umpires and TV personnel. To me, those are still gatherings. I don't even know if you can play with nobody in the ballpark. I don't have any idea how this is gonna play out."

The Phillies were supposed to host the Blue Jays in April and visit them in mid-September. Toronto's NBA and NHL teams are both heavily in the playoff mix. The Raptors are the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference and the Maple Leafs are third in the Atlantic. Playoffs in both leagues end in June; how far could they extend this year?

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How Philly-New York trash talk led to the Oakland Athletics elephant mascot

How Philly-New York trash talk led to the Oakland Athletics elephant mascot

The Oakland Athletics were slated to visit Philadelphia in mid-June in 2020 which, for the A's, would have been a return to the franchise's original home.

But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has Major League Baseball adjusting its 2020 schedule on the fly, so let's take some time to exploring a particularly quirky connection between Philadelphia and the Athletics' whimsical elephant mascot, Stomper.

You know, this guy:

Stomper dates all the way back to 1902, when professional baseball was still finding its footing, according to a neat little video on a slice of baseball from NBC Sports Bay Area.

It was a different time: Philadelphia had a team called the Athletics, and a man named John McGraw was managing the New York Giants. (Yes, the baseball Giants.)

McGraw, during a press conference, said he didn't think the Athletics' decision to buy up expensive star players' contracts was going to pay off, and said they would be left with "a big white elephant on their hands".

Famed Athletics owner and general manager Connie Mack laughed at McGraw's characterization, and decided to make a white elephant the Athletics' unofficial mascot. Eventually it became official, and before the Athletics and Giants faced off in the 1905 World Series, Mack presented McGraw with a white elephant statuette.

What an unreal Philly zinger.

You can watch the video from NBC Sports Bay Area below:

When the Athletics moved to Kansas City, the elephant disappeared (politics) but after the Athletics moved to Oakland, the team made the decision in the late 1980s to have the elephant make a triumphant - tri-unk-phant? - return.

I'm glad it came back, because now we have a reason to remember a sick 115-year-old burn. Connie Mack forever.