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New faces bring renewed buzz to Phillies

Adding Harper, Realmuto, Segura makes lineup among deepest in MLB
@ToddZolecki
March 25, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If you took a walk around the concourse at Spectrum Field this spring, you saw plenty of Bryce Harper jerseys and T-shirts. You also saw Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola and Andrew McCutchen, too.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If you took a walk around the concourse at Spectrum Field this spring, you saw plenty of Bryce Harper jerseys and T-shirts.

You also saw Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola and Andrew McCutchen, too.

For a long time, as the Phillies grinded through a multiyear rebuilding effort, fans clung to their Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay jerseys. They were still prevalent in Clearwater, but there is more excitement about this Phils team than any since 2012, when Philadelphia was coming off a franchise-record 102 wins in 2011.

MLB Network dropped by camp on March 17 to dig into some of that excitement and explore those expectations.

What's the goal?
It is postseason or bust for the Phillies, who enter the 2019 campaign with Washington as co-favorites to win the National League East. PECOTA has the Phils and Nationals each projected to win 89 games. The Mets are picked to win 87, and the Braves are projected to win 85, which makes the NL East one of the toughest divisions in baseball.

The only team in the NL expected to win more games than the Phillies and Nationals are the Dodgers (94).

At the very least, the Phils will be expected to capture one of the two NL Wild Card spots, if they cannot secure their first division title since 2011.

What's the plan?
The Phillies' lineup looks like one of the deeper ones in the Majors with the additions of Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura. Combine those four former All-Stars (with two NL MVP Awards on the shelf) with Rhys Hoskins and on-base threat Cesar Hernandez, and the Phils have a formidable top six, with the club hoping center fielder Odubel Herrera returns to form and something finally clicks with third baseman Maikel Franco.

There are questions about the back end of the Phillies' rotation because Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez have not established themselves. The team acknowledged those concerns in the offseason as it attempted to sign left-handers Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ. If the rotation has issues, however, Philadelphia could look to a deep Triple-A rotation or make a deal before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

The Phils also think they can manage any rotation issues with a bullpen they believe could be one of the best in baseball. David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris are candidates to close.

What could go wrong?
The rotation struggles early, putting the Phillies in an early hole. The defense also could continue to be an issue.

Combine the rotation's potential struggles with poor defense, and the Phils could start hearing it from antsy fans, who are expecting a good start.

Who might surprise?
We've talked a lot about the rotation already, but the Phillies have reason to believe their rotation will be better than anticipated. Some might have forgotten, but the rotation had the sixth-best ERA in baseball last season through Aug. 12, when Philadelphia still held a share of first place in the NL East.

The Phils look at Pivetta (4.77 ERA vs. 3.80 FIP), Velasquez (4.85 ERA vs. 3.75 FIP) and Eflin (4.35 ERA vs. 3.80 FIP) and see them taking a step forward because of an additional year of experience and an improved defense.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .