Loaded on offense, Phillies aim to snap postseason drought

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — The Philadelphia Phillies will try to slug their way to October baseball.

After their first winning season since 2011, the Phillies spared no expense loading up on offense.

They spent $179 million on Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, surrounding Bryce Harper with two more powerful bats. The lineup is long and strong with All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius.

“We’ve added a lot of offense,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The organization has done a great job.”

Harper, the reigning NL MVP, pushed the front office to improve the team after an 82-80 finish last season. Managing partner John Middleton gave team President Dave Dombrowski the green light to exceed the luxury tax threshold when Castellanos remained unsigned a couple days after Schwarber agreed to a $79 million, four-year deal.

“Dave is the only GM who has taken three different franchises to the World Series,” Middleton said. “He’s one of five who has won two with two different franchises. When that guy says to you, ‘This is an opportunity.’ … Well, he’s been there. He’s making that judgment.”

In agent Scott Boras’ words, the Phillies got their “cake” in Schwarber and the “frosting” in Castellanos, his client.

Schwarber won a World Series with the Chicago Cubs and has played in the postseason in six of his seven seasons in the majors. He’s bringing a winning attitude to a clubhouse that needs it. The Phillies have the longest postseason drought in the NL.

“It was important for us,” Dombrowski said. “I think we needed to have someone with that type of experience. You can talk about it, but there’s a difference between talking about it and experiencing it.”

NEW LOOK

The bullpen got a major makeover after the lockout. The Phillies signed right-handers Corey Knebel and Jeurys Familia and lefty Brad Hand. Knebel will open the season as the closer. Familia and Hand have been All-Star closers in their careers. Protecting leads was Philadelphia’s biggest weakness the past two seasons, costing them a postseason berth down the stretch. Lefty Jose Alvarado and right-handers Connor Brogdon, Sam Coonrod and Seranthony Dominguez round out the pen.

STARTING ROTATION

Zack Wheeler finished second for the NL Cy Young Award last season and Aaron Nola was third in 2018 and seventh in 2020. They’re a formidable 1-2 punch, especially if Nola regains his All-Star form after a so-so 2021 campaign. Righties Kyle Gibson and Zach Eflin and lefty Ranger Suarez make it a deep starting five.

BOMBS AWAY

Harper hit .309 with 35 homers and 1.044 OPS to earn his second MVP award and first in three seasons in Philly. Castellanos batted .309 with 34 homers and 100 RBIs for the Reds. Schwarber hit 32 homers for the Nationals and Red Sox. Hoskins had 27 homers in only 389 at-bats. Realmuto and Gregorius each have had multiple 20-homer seasons in their careers. The last time the Phillies had five guys hit 20 each was 2009 when they won the NL pennant and lost to Girardi’s New York Yankees in the World Series.

BRONZE GLOVES

Defense will be a challenge for the Phillies, who have several regulars more suited to serve as designated hitter. Schwarber and Castellanos will play left field and DH. Hoskins (first base) and Gregorius (shortstop) have struggled in the field. Realmuto, who won a Gold Glove in 2019, is the best of the group.

ROOKIE TO WATCH

Bryson Stott, the 14th overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft, came to spring training competing with Gregorius for the starting job at shortstop but could end up opening the season as the third baseman instead of Alec Bohm. Stott has been impressive. Bohm is poor defensively and went through a sophomore slump after a strong rookie showing in the shortened 2020 season.

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