In a recent interview, Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski revealed he doesn’t anticipate any further roster moves before pitchers and catchers report in February. This news shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to any Phillies fans. The 40-man roster is full, the starting lineup is set, and the pitching staff is complete. The bench could use an upgrade, but it would be a minor one, and Dombrowski mentioned he might look to add a fifth outfielder once spring training is underway.
Even though Dombrowski’s comments weren’t particularly revelatory, they provided some clarity. The group we’re looking at right now is the core of the 2023 Phillies. This is the team that’s going to compete with the Mets and the Braves in the NL East. And with that knowledge, one burning question comes to mind: is it enough?
Can the Phillies Compete in the NL East?
The Phillies are a better team now than they were when the offseason began – that much is certain. First things first, there’s the newest star in red pinstripes, Trea Turner. The 29-year-old shortstop is a true superstar. He hit .298 last season with 21 home runs, 27 stolen bases, and a 128 wRC+, good for 6.3 FanGraphs WAR. He could very well be the best player on the team in 2023 and beyond.
Dombrowski also made several smaller moves to fix up the pitching staff. He trimmed the fat of the bullpen and added three new arms to complement Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado. The relief corps should be a true strength for the first time in recent memory. Meanwhile, Taijuan Walker will stabilize the back of the rotation, which should be one of the best in the game. It certainly helps that top prospect Andrew Painter is banging on the door with his 101-mph fastball.
The Phillies’ defense is still a question mark, and Bryce Harper’s health status is up in the air, but nevertheless, this is a new and improved Phillies squad. They won 87 games last year, and they should win more in 2023.
Here’s the problem: their divisional rivals are two of the biggest powerhouses in the sport. Neither the Mets nor the Braves have improved all that much this winter, but they didn’t get any worse either. When you’re as good as those two teams were last year, that’s all you have to do.
Both teams won 101 games in 2022. Atlanta’s lineup is intimidating from top to bottom, and New York has the deepest pitching staff in the NL. You could make an argument the Mets and the Braves are the two best teams in the sport. Thus, despite every improvement the Phillies have made, they’re going to face an uphill battle all season long. They’re a better team, but they’re not a 100-win team, and, unfortunately, that’s what they’re up against.
Dombrowski accomplished everything he set out to do, addressing needs in the bullpen, rotation, and starting lineup. Ultimately, however, Philadelphia still looks like the third-place team in a top-heavy NL East.
The Third Wild Card Is the Phillies’ to Lose
Thankfully for the Phillies, third-place teams can still make the playoffs in this day and age. They don’t have high hopes in their division, but their chances of snagging a Wild Card spot have gone way up. Last year, they snuck into the postseason with two games remaining on the schedule, just beating out the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card berth. This year, that shouldn’t be a problem.
The second-place finishers in the East and West are the favorites for the first two Wild Card spots, but the third spot is Philadelphia’s to lose. The Brewers are their biggest competition, but the Phillies are better on both sides of the ball.
Milwaukee has a killer rotation, but their bullpen is unexceptional, and their offense is middling. Thus, as things currently stand, the fightin’ Phils have the inside track on a playoff spot. That’s not something I could’ve written at this time last year.
So, about that burning question: did the Phillies do enough to genuinely compete with the Mets and the Braves? Truth be told, probably not — and that’s coming from an optimistic Phillies fan. However, Dave Dombrowski did great work to improve his team’s Wild Card odds. And as the Phillies of 2022 proved, all you need to do is make the playoffs. Once you’re there, anything can happen.
The NL East crown may not be in reach this season, but that’s okay. The Phillies are improving, and for the first time in a long time, the future is truly bright.