Since the Twins take on a relatively unfamiliar opponent this weekend in the Phillies, I reached out to Justin Klugh, the site manager for The Good Phight, SBNation’s Phillies blog. Justin was a great sport and answered a few questions for me, which are found below
1. Obviously Bryce Harper has been big news all winter, and has already been paying dividends for the Phillies. What is your take on the deal, and what can we look forward to seeing from Harper in this series?
It’s tough to know or understand what having a superstar like Harper on your team is going to really do. Obviously he’s an incredible baseball player, but culturally, he hit this city like a meteor that keeps hitting it repeatedly. At this point, 13 years and $330 million is an afterthought; an issue to be discussed in the future, when details like that are debated. All that matters now is that they’re the numbers that got him here, and that he’s here, hitting some of the longest home runs of his life, and ruining the evenings of his former team’s fans. Not only has he been impactful, but he, and a few of the Phillies’ other acquisitions, have allowed everyone in the lineup to be shuffled into a spot that has made them better, and now we’ve got guys like Maikel Franco flourishing as well. So get ready to see him hit a baseball about 460ish feet at least once and also do this spastic fist pump thing to the fans behind him in right field. The Phillies’ offense is a whirring blender right now, but you can be comforted by how our bullpen is more of an unplugged kitchen appliance..
2. The Phillies (being in the NL East) aren’t a team I really follow as much as some others, but obviously they made some big splashes this offseason. What is a realistic outlook for this season from them? Are they trying to win it all this year, or are they building towards a future season?
If this team as it stands was a “phase 2” of some kind, I shudder to think what the final form would look like. This team has more of an “endgame” feel to it. That’s not to say they’ve been perfect, they did lose a game yesterday, but on paper, even the areas we consider weak points after five games, like the bullpen, like most of the pitching, looked solid or promising. Maybe not the back of the rotation.
But no, I think this is the team the Phillies intend to win the World Series with, and if this team starts looking like it’s not that team, they’ll see what they can do to supplement the talent they have. The building is over--the Phillies tried to build, didn’t find the cornucopia of talent they needed from their farm system, and used their other big asset, money (as well as a few great trades) to build their contender. As one of the only active teams--and probably the most active team--on the market this winter, it’s encouraging to feel like there’s people in charge on high levels who are eager to see this team win, even though nobody trusts billionaires and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.
3. What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of the Phillies? Are there any obvious weaknesses that the Twins will be able to exploit?
I’ll start with the weaknesses, and they are that the rotation hasn’t really shown too much, barring Zach Eflin’s start in Washington. The most worrisome part is that Aaron Nola has looked disrupted, and he was the steady hand on which he relied for most of last year. The back of the rotation has been unable to prevent runs from squeaking in during their late inning appearances as well, so there’s hardly an impenetrable wall for the opposition.
But still, they’re 4-1. Why? Because this offense is the scariest, best offense I’ve ever seen on the Phillies. It’s only been five games, so we can’t say already that they’re more formidable than the 2008 team, but there’s nobody you can avoid just by walking around them. Already, Franco has been intentionally walked like five times, just so teams can get to the pitcher’s spot. Harper has obviously been IBB’d as well, but doing that just brings Rhys Hoskins to the plate, and on opening day in that situation, he hit a grand slam. Everyone here is a different kind of threat, and none of them are anyone an opposing pitcher should want to face: The Harper-Hoskins-J.T. Realmuto block alone is tough to get around, but it’s surrounded by power and on-base threat Andrew McCutchen, extra base hit machines Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera, reliably disciplined Cesar Hernandez, and the thunderous Maikel Franco.
4. As fans of an AL team, we are used to the DH. With the proposal to implement a DH into the NL, what are your thoughts?
Just do it. I’ve fought this for long enough, and I don’t even really know why anymore. Mostly to annoy my colleague, John Stolnis, I guess. Yeah, we’ve seen an explosion of pitcher offense this year in Jhoulys Chacin, Zack Greinke, and Jacob deGrom, and even Jake Arrieta had a fun at-bat for the Phillies this season, but really, there’s only one point in the Phillies’ current lineup that feels like it breaks up the offense, and it’s the pitcher’s spot. I don’t know what’s so good and pure about a pitcher going up there, holding the bat wrong and intending not to swing. Just let us in the NL have our catchers and first basemen extend their careers by only playing half the sport. More dingers means better baseball. I am interested in new ways for the NL and AL to differentiate themselves, however. Not sure what that would look like. Maybe a new kind of baseball hat.
5. Who is one player we probably haven’t heard of who will have a major impact on this series?
I don’t think Maikel Franco is as prominently known outside of Philly as he is here. Franco was given the Paul Owens Award for being the best position player in the farm system a few years back, and was considered to be the centerpiece of the next great Phillies team. A few very mediocre at best years later, he was on the chopping block, assuming the Phillies were signing Manny Machado to play his position at third base. Of course, this was coming off his best year in the bigs, when he hit .270 with a .780 OPS. Not great, but it was what we had wanted to see from him two years before. We were left to wonder: was he finally figuring it out, just in time to lose his job?
Yes and no, it looks like. He didn’t lose his job, but he seems to have figured things out. The arrival of so many new hitters with real positions--not the pseudo-platoons and statistical match-ups Gabe Kapler kept playing with last year--has led to some much-needed stabilization to the lineup, and Franco, the eight-hole hitter now instead of the clean-up or three-hole hitter, has benefited immensely. The pressure’s off, the green light is on, and he is homering and walking at a pace to keep up with, well, Bryce Harper. So, look out.
6. Anything else I should have asked you that I didn’t?
”What’s the best baseball podcast?” Oh I’m so glad you asked, T.J.; it’s The Dirty Inning with myself and Dr. Trevor Strunk, on which we discuss the most awful, hilarious, bizarre, or forgotten innings in Phillies history.
But you could also ask, “What’s the deal with Gabe Kapler? Haven’t heard from him much this year.” And the truth is, Kapler needed to take a back seat to the players on the roster, as far as exposure goes. Signing the face of baseball helped, but so far, he’s done a great job of stepping back and letting the team be as good as it’s supposed to be. We’ll get to some complaints about bullpen management or whatever in probably a week or so, or more likely, during the first game of this Twins series, but for now, he’s just letting this lineup flex instead of tinkering with it--the Phillies were the only team to feature the same lineup in all five of their first games--and it’s paid off immensely.