Long-time Q&A contributor Kevin McGuire of Macho Row and several other places returns to talk Nats – Phillies.
WFY: The 2019 MLB Offfseason champions are
The Philadelphia Phillies
J.T. Realmuto , long-time Nats killer, Andrew McCutcheon, and.. I’m kind of tired of it, but I’m forced to ask about Bryce Harper. You have talked about how much you wanted him to sign with the Phils since time immemorial. What are the very early returns other than selling lots of jerseys? Has he added jawn to his vocabulary? (we know “citywide” won’t be there) Is he in the Action News opening now?
KMc: While I cannot confirm whether or not Bryce Harper has added “jawn” to his vernacular just yet, there is no doubt he has been doing everything he can think of to endear himself to the locals. He has said all of the right things sicne his introductory press conference by saying things like he didn’t want the No. 34 because that was Roy Halladay’s number, to walking up to the plate in his first spring training at-bat to the Fresh Prince theme, to wearing green Phillie Phanatic shoes on Opening Day. There are some who think he may be trying too hard to fit in, but I honestly think he was going to fit in right away, knowing the kind of player he has been since coming into the league. Hitting two home runs over the opening weekend in a sweep of the Braves certainly helps.
And no, he’s not in the Action News intro just yet, although I suspect it won’t be long before he is.
WFY: 13 years, $330 million and the specter of old player skills looming. How much hardware do the Phillies have to win for Harper to be a hero and not stuck on the island of misfit toys with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid in the collective Philly consciousness?
KMc: The contract does come with some lofty expectations, which is fair. Ultimately, it will come down to how much the Phillies devote to fielding a team around Harper for the bulk of the next 13 years. For this all to pay off, I think we’re legitimately talking about a team that needs to add not one, but two World Series titles at a bare minimum. I personally would be satisfied with just one, but the expectation of having a perennial division contender will keep the pressure on.
At the end of the next 13 seasons, including this current year, I’ll be satisfied with five division crowns, eight playoff appearances and at least one parade down Broad Street. As for individual hardware, Harper is being paid like a guy that should win no less than four MVP awards, with a handful of Silver Sluggers to compliment them.
WFY: It’s been quite a ride for the fans of the Broad Street sports complex tenants. The Eagles won the Super Bowl a while back, the 76ers are solid, Wing Bowl died and well, the Flyers got Gritty. Where do the Phillies fall in the City of Brotherly power ranking?
KMc: The Eagles will forever be No. 1 in this city, and nothing is going to change that. But the Phillies are a solid No. 2 when things are going well like they were during that run from 2007 through 2011. The Sixers have always been No. 3 overall, but I feel the Sixers and Phillies can pretty much share the No. 2 spot depending on the time of year we’re talking. And if the Sixers end up having a playoff run that can stretch into June, the buzz down at the sports complex will only grow and carryover to the baseball field.
The Flyers are locked in to No. 4 compared to the other teams, and I think we’re just waiting for them to embark on their own run of success like the height of the Eric Lindros era. I’ll believe it when I see it.
WFY: Would you have preferred Manny Machado over Harper? Do you think Lebron would have preferred going to the 76ers? Of course, what about South Jersey native, Mike Trout, now locked up forever with Anaheim?
KMc: I personally always wanted the Phillies to get Harper over Manny Machado. I always felt he was the guy that would energize this lineup and he was a much better fit for the Philly fanbase than Machado.
I still think LeBron would have been awesome to see in a Sixers uniform, but it seems clear to me he has other interests in mind with Hollywood deals. Despite how things are going on the court, I’m not sure LeBron James is second-guessing his decision… but I secretly hope he is.
It was fun to think about a possible lineup that included Harper, Hoskins and Mike Trout, but I never quite thought that was going to be a realistic possibility. The Phillies may want to spend stupid money, but investing over $700 million between two players (not even considering the possible future contract for Hoskins) never felt very viable. And I think the Phillies probably thought it wasn’t a lock to get Trout to come home, which is why getting Harper was so important this past offseason. Better to have Harper and no Trout than having no Harper and no Trout (and no Machado).
WFY: While the Nats and Mets seemingly have the leading rotations in the NL East, the Phillies top 3 is maybe not that far behind. How do they look after spring training and one series?
KMc: The pitching in this division is going to be tough, no matter what lineup you have. And I suspect the Phillies will have some trouble getting much going against the likes of Max Scherzer and Jason deGrom. But as the NL Cy Young results showed last year, Aaron Nola is more than capable of delivering as well. And Sunday night showed Jake Arrieta is capable of working out of some trouble on a good day. He may still have some ups and downs.
Nick Pivetta didn’t have the kind of outing that many are expecting out of him this season in his debut, and we’ll see what kind of performance guys like Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez put together soon enough. I think the trio of Pivetta, Velasquez and Eflin will give up some runs, but their job will simply be to keep the game in reach because they will have a lineup that will be challenging to tie down on a regular basis. Last year, run support was scarce. This year, these pitchers could give up four or five runs and the game will rarely be out of reach.
I would expect the Phillies to make a move to add a lefty to the rotation at some point this season, because the rotation could be bolstered still. But with the offense the Phillies should pack this season, these pitchers should get a couple of more wins even without being an ace.
WFY: Was I prophetic in 2005 — did the Nats and Phillies just become true rivals? Is a Nick Pivetta victory over the Nats the height of a regular season victory over DC?
KMc: I think this rivalry has grown over time. Jayson Werth signing with the Nationals certainly helped, and I suspect Harper going to the Phillies will have a similar effect. We still haven’t quite had a season where the Phillies and Nationals were “good” at the same time, although last year was as close as we’ve come to that. If this division plays out the way I think it will, the rivalry between the Phillies and Nationals should go up a few notches this season.
WFY: “Citizens Park South” is getting thrown around again, but if that is so, where was everybody since 2012? After all, the Phillies have the largest market to themselves in all of MLB. Will they start outdrawing the Nats again? Will the line at Springer’s this summer be nothing but powder blue Harper jerseys?
KMc: It’s no coincidence that the migration of Phillies fans to Nationals Park took a nosedive in 2012, when the end of the run for the Phillies in the division started and the team was inching closer and closer to having to rebuild. The enthusiasm for the team had dropped off accordingly both at home and on the road. But yes, I would suspect a few more Phillies fans will be showing up at Nationals Park in their brand new Bryce Harper jersey or shirsey.
And yes, I would anticipate a good number of powder blue Harper jerseys at the shore this summer.
WFY: Gabe Kapler started off poorly last year, but kept the Phillies in contention for the division for quite a while. Did he improve as a manager as the season went on or were the Fightins performing in spite of him? Is his time in the Dodgers organization coming under scrutiny?
KMc: I’m still trying to decide if Kapler got better as the season went along or if the team overcame his decision-making enough to fool us for a while. It’s difficult for me to suggest Kapler got better as the 2018 season played out because the team fell off a cliff after the all-star break and went from leading the division to fading out of the rearview mirror of the Braves in September. I think it is fair to suggest the Phillies were overachieving for the first half of the season in spite of Kapler’s managing.
I do think he learned some lessons though, and he is coming into the 2019 season with a much better roster to work with. And because of that, tinkering with the lineup is expected to be less of a routine this season. An offense like this can make a manager’s job pretty easy most nights. We’ll have to wait to see what Kapler does in a crunch situation. The opening series didn’t really present that scenario.
WFY: One a lighter note, does the Phanatic have a little more currency after the Offseason Championship? He seems overshadowed by Gritty despite 40 years of meritorious service.
KMc: Gritty has done really well for himself in his rookie season, but he’s not about to dethrone the Phanatic. The two seem to be best buds, but I would be on the phone if I’m the Phanatic’s agent trying to rework my contract.
WFY: What nicknames does that latest Comcast skycraper have? It looks like a cigarette sticking out of pack or a Volkswagen key.
KMc: We already had the USB drive that is the Comcast tower. The new Comcast tower is really just a USB C plug. I think we’re still trying to come to a consensus on what it resembles, so I’m open to suggestions.
WFY: Who takes this series, the season series and the division?
KMc: With just two games on the schedule and Scherzer and Nola going in separate games, I think we have ourselves a short series split here. Scherzer follows up his dominant season debut to give this Phillies lineup something to think about (I think Harper goes hitless in his return to DC), but Nola returns the favor in Game 2 as the bats get cracking a little bit more in the afternoon.
I am confident in the Phillies this year and think they certainly perform better within the division this season. That will include taking the season series with the Nationals en route to a division crown. But I think this NL East is a three-team race down to the wire between the Phillies, Braves, and Nationals. The Mets will hang around for a while but fade in September.