Phillies

MLB schedule 2020: Phillies will face a brutal run in shortened 60-game season

MLB schedule 2020: Phillies will face a brutal run in shortened 60-game season

Two aspects of the shortened 2020 season will hurt the Phillies: the static playoff field and the brutal MLB schedule format.

It was long believed that the postseason would be expanded from 10 teams to 16 this year. The playoffs are a huge moneymaker for MLB and more teams means more games means more revenue.

But MLB and the players' association were unable for months to work out a financial agreement, which led to the league unilaterally implementing a season. The expanded playoff field is a bargaining chip for the union and we will not see it in 2020. The playoff field will remain the same as it's been — three division winners and two wild-cards per league.

The Phillies, who are probably still a bit behind the Nationals and Braves, would have benefited from an eight-team playoff field in the NL. If you were to rank all 15 NL teams, the Phillies would probably check in between 5 and 8, behind at least the Dodgers, Nats, Braves and Cardinals.

What will also hurt the Phillies is their number of games against teams on the East Coast. In an effort to limit travel, MLB is keeping teams within their geographic regions. It means the Phillies will have heavy doses of the NL East and AL East, which might be the two toughest divisions in baseball. 

In the NL East, the Nationals, Braves and Mets are threats. In the AL East, the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox are threats. The Phillies are set to play 42 of their 60 games against those teams.

The Yankees have the deepest roster in the American League — power, good starting pitching, great bullpen. They won 103 games last season then signed Gerrit Cole coming off a 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 326-strikeout season.

The Rays won 96 games last season. Their top three starters — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton — are as unhittable as any team's top three. Their bullpen is filled with hard throwers and big-time bat-missers like Nick Anderson, Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo.

The Red Sox, even after trading away Mookie Betts, can still hit. The top half of their lineup — Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez — remains dangerous.

And then there are the defending champion Nationals with their three aces, the Braves with the two best position players in the NL East, and the Mets, who have won the season series against the Phillies in seven of the last eight years.

Those six teams — Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Nats, Braves, Mets — won an average of 93 games last season. Boston (Betts) and Washington (Anthony Rendon) each lost a perennial MVP candidate but the other four teams have either improved or maintained.

Hey, at least the Phillies get the Marlins and Orioles, too. Maybe the Phils will actually clean up against the Fish this year.

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Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in.

For now.

The Phillies' big off-season acquisition on Sunday said he was committed to pitching this season, but he left the door open wide enough to back out.

"Yeah, definitely," Wheeler said when asked if he had considered opting out of the season like several other prominent big leaguers have done.

"We just have to see how things are here at the field and at the stadium. I'm happy with what I see so far. But things could change, especially once our baby's born. I always think about what's going on around me. Is it safe? Is it OK? Literally every single day. I have to just ask myself that. I'm going to continue to keep asking myself that every day."

Wheeler's wife, Dominique, is due to give birth to the couple's first child in about three weeks.

That's an anxious time to begin with.

Now, add in a pandemic.

Sheesh.

"It's a very difficult decision," Wheeler said. "It's something that is still playing in my head. I have to be very careful here at the field, outside of the field, wherever I go. The baby's and Dominique's health is most important to me. So whatever I can do to make sure they are safe, that is the No. 1 goal for me. Baseball comes after that."

Wheeler has expressed his concerns to team officials, including manager Joe Girardi.

Frankly, every person affiliated with the club has the same concerns about the health and safety of their families.

"We've chit-chatted here and there," Wheeler said. "I think they know what position I'm in. I think we are going to sit down and talk about that. But we haven't done it yet. I've been happy with what's gone on so far here (with health and safety protocols). 

"But, yeah, I'm definitely going to sit down with Joe and whoever else just to reiterate that. I'll let them know how I am feeling. Joe's a family guy. Family comes first to him. That's the first thing he told me when I talked to him on the phone right after I signed. 'Family is first.' I know he recognizes that. He knows the situation I'm in. He loves his kids. He's a good guy. He is one of the reasons why I signed here."

There are a number of players in MLB whose wives are expecting. Mike Trout is one and he has expressed reservations about playing and compromising his family's safety.

Wheeler was asked if he believed MLB should step in and make a blanket decision for players whose wives are pregnant.

"Maybe they could have put that label on guys with pregnant wives. I do believe that," Wheeler said. "I think they did a nice job with everything else. But there are a lot of guys with pregnant wives right now, whether it's later on in the pregnancy, early on in the pregnancy, they are at risk. It's a very serious thing as we all know. Maybe they should have thought about that a little bit more. I don't know. Like I said, I can only worry about myself and do as much as I can personally to protect my wife."

Wheeler signed a five-year, $118 million contract in December.

Players who opt out of the season do not get paid their prorated salaries unless they have an underlying health condition that makes playing too risky.

Baseball-wise, Wheeler is on a good track. During the shutdown, he maintained his throwing program back home in Georgia. He got up to 80 pitches in his bullpen sessions at home and faced hitters in camp on Saturday. With the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Nola — he's throwing at a nearby facility but has not joined the team for official workouts — Wheeler could end up starting the season opener July 23 or 24.

That is, if the virus allows for a season opener. 

And all is well at home.

Wheeler expects to take the permitted three days paternity leave once the baby arrives. Then he will need to go through testing and health protocols before rejoining the team. He estimated that he would miss at least a start, maybe two.

The Phillies are prepared for sudden changes in their pitching rotations. Girardi said he'll have relievers piggybacked with each starter and a five-man starting staff with the backup club in Lehigh Valley.

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COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

The Phillies have four players on the COVID-19 injured list (Hector Neris, Ranger Suarez, Scott Kingery and Tommy Hunter) and three more who have yet to arrive in camp because of coronavirus protocols (Aaron Nola, Adam Haseley and Christian Bethancourt).

We’re already seeing how unsteady and unpredictable this 60-game season will be. Nola is the Phillies’ best starting pitcher and Neris is their best reliever. Kingery is their starting second baseman. Haseley was set to start or split time in center field. Suarez was in the race for the fifth starter’s job.

So much for the Phillies would change without them, and it’s reasonable to expect at least a few of them will miss time early in the season. Phillies lefty Cole Irvin said Saturday he thinks it could take pitchers up to six weeks to return from coronavirus because it would require two weeks of quarantine, then the resumption of throwing, then a few bullpen sessions. The severity of cases varies, but it looks like it will generally cost pitchers more time than position players.

The best hitter in the NL East, Freddie Freeman, is also dealing with COVID-19 and is not feeling well at all right now, according to his wife Chelsea. Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters Saturday "it will be a while 'til we can get him back." It totally changes the Braves’ equation and 2020 chances if their rock is missing for a third of the season.

Will Smith, Atlanta’s top-tier lefty reliever signed to a three-year, $39 million in the offseason, also tested positive. Then on Saturday, Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez opted out of the season, as did their first base coach Eric Young Sr. Four Marlins players tested positive as well.

Yankees All-Star infielder D.J. LeMahieu tested positive.  So did Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Twins slugger Miguel Sano, Padres outfielder Tommy Pham and Indians speedster Delino DeShields Jr. Last week, Charlie Blackmon tested positive. There are at least another dozen known or suspected cases around the league with more, surely, to come.

On Friday, Mike Trout said "Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable" about the season ahead with a pregnant wife.

On Saturday, Dodgers left-hander David Price opted out of the season because of health and family concerns, joining King Felix, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake and Joe Ross. Buster Posey is reportedly mulling the decision too.

Other than that ... decent first weekend of camp?

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