Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Phillies’ lineup is lethal

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 29

It might be a bit presumptuous to start planning the World Series parade, but you can pencil in the Phillies as National League East champions. Heck, it wouldn’t be overly bold to write them in as champions in pen.

This isn’t misplaced optimism due to the Phillies’ emphatic 10-4 triumph over the Braves on Opening Day. The positivity is based upon a formidable lineup with few weaknesses.

Think about this: the Phillies scored 10 runs on a day in which Bryce Harper, their prized offseason acquisition, went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Andrew McCutchen, another former National League MVP acquired during the offseason, ignited the offense with a leadoff home run in the first inning. Then Maikel Franco, widely considered to be a potential weak link in the lineup, blasted a three-run homer in the sixth inning to break the game open.

Harper played a role in the seventh inning. He was intentionally walked, loading the bases for Rhys Hoskins, who put the game away by delivering his first career grand slam.

The lineup is loaded with potential heroes. On Saturday the heroes could be Harper and fellow newcomer J.T. Realmuto. On Sunday the heroes could be Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera.

The Phillies’ lineup has been upgraded significantly since last season. Four of the first five batters in the lineup are new additions, with Hoskins being the only holdover in the top five spots on Opening Day. That signifies an impressive improvement.

This doesn’t mean the Phillies are going to score 10 runs every game. But it would be surprising if they only reach double digits two or three more times the rest of the season.

This also doesn’t mean the Phillies are going to win the World Series. Even if we’re comparing offenses on Opening Day, the Phillies finished behind the Dodgers, who set a major league record for Opening Day with eight home runs while scoring 12 times. The Dodgers could be the Phillies’ biggest rival for National League supremacy. But don’t count out the Central Division’s Brewers, Cardinals and Cubs. The Mets, Nationals and Braves should be good as well, but they shouldn’t be able to overtake the Phillies in the NL East.

The potent offense should take some of the pressure off Phillies pitchers. They shouldn’t have to hold teams to one or two runs any longer in order to win games.

But there’s no denying that the Phillies’ weakness – at least compared to the rest of the team – appears to be the pitching staff. Aaron Nola was a Cy Young Award finalist last season, but there wasn’t much quality behind him in the rotation. Zach Eflin was the only other starter with a winning record for a team that finished 80-82, and Jake Arrieta (10-11, 3.96 ERA) was the only other starter with an ERA below 4.35. The lack of quality depth in the rotation may turn out to be an Achilles’ heel in a playoffs series. During the regular season, however, the Phillies’ productive offense should ensure that more than two starting pitchers have winning records.

The addition of veteran David Robertson should make the bullpen better. Not every reliever will pan out, but there appears to be enough depth to ensure that the bullpen won’t be a liability. Starters who leave the game with the lead should be reasonably confident that the bullpen can protect it.

It’s much too early to be talking about magic numbers in terms of the standings, but the Phillies’ magic number may be 26. Harper is 26 years old. So is Hoskins. Franco is 26, as are starting pitchers Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, as well as reliever Edubray Ramos.

With nearly 25 percent of their roster 26 years old, the Phillies shouldn’t be a one-and-done team. McCutchen is the only position player older than 30. The Phillies should be a team of the future – as well as the present.

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