Will new balanced schedule help the Phillies?
This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
By all accounts, the Phillies have had a remarkably successful offseason.
They signed arguably the best available position player in Trea Turner to an 11-year deal. They shored up the rotation with the addition of dependable righty Taijuan Walker. And they further bolstered a bullpen that shined in the postseason by trading for two-time All-Star closer Gregory Soto and signing veterans Matt Strahm and Craig Kimbrel.
But nobody is about to hand the Phillies the NL East crown just yet.
After all, the Mets offset the loss of Jacob deGrom by signing reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. They also added Kodai Senga and José Quintana to the rotation, and handed out huge contracts to Brandon Nimmo (eight years, $162 million) and Edwin Díaz (five years, $102 million) to keep them from signing elsewhere.
The Braves, meanwhile, acquired one of the top catchers in the game in Sean Murphy -- then promptly signed him to a six-year, $73 million extension. They also added some bullpen depth and are hoping to get back Mike Soroka, who looked like a budding ace before twice tearing his Achilles and missing the past two seasons.
Oh, and the Marlins still have the reigning NL Cy Young winner (Sandy Alcantara) and they've also added Johnny Cueto, Jean Segura and reigning AL batting champion Luis Arraez.
On the bright side, the Phillies -- and everyone else -- will play 24 fewer divisional games this season with the introduction of the balanced schedule.
Seems like good timing for the Phillies, right?
“Yeah, I would say,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “I've always liked the balanced schedule. I just think it's fair for everybody. Especially when there are all these Wild Card teams, I just think it's the right way to do it.”
But … the new schedule format might not be as big of a benefit for the Phils as it seems.
Sure, they get to play 12 fewer games against the Mets and Braves -- but they also lose six against the rebuilding Nationals, a team the Phillies went 16-3 against last season. And while they may avoid facing Alcantara an extra time or two, missing out on six games against the Marlins isn’t necessarily a good thing -- especially when you consider who Philadelphia will play instead.
Instead of playing their entire Interleague schedule against the AL Central -- a division featuring the Tigers, Royals, White Sox, Guardians and Twins -- the Phillies instead added the stacked AL East and deep AL West to their slate.
So, avoiding the Mets and Braves a dozen times could be canceled out by facing the Yankees, Astros, Mariners and Rangers three times apiece. Toss in three games each against the up-and-coming Orioles and the always-pesky Rays, plus a potential matchup against Shohei Ohtani when the Phils face Mike Trout and the Angels in late August -- and suddenly, the new format may not seem so favorable.
Still, Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm welcomes the chance to face some new clubs at the expense of seeing those same divisional foes an extra couple times apiece.
“Just the competition that we see all year -- the NL East is tough,” Bohm said. “We beat up on each other all year. So I'm curious to see what it looks like playing every team in the league and getting a couple less series against those teams. I think it's going to be new to all of us, so we'll see how it goes."