Without Bryce Harper, for now, the Phillies could experiment with several batting orders.
Defending NLCS MVP Bryce Harper will miss roughly half of the 2023 Philadelphia Phillies season before hopefully returning to full health for the first time in more than a year.
While Harper’s injury is unfortunate and hurts the team, it’s part of the game. It will be an exciting opportunity for manager Rob Thomson and his coaching staff with regards to the batting order. This will be a welcome change of pace after things settled into a “cookie cutter” in the latter stages of 2022.
Yes, that lineup got the club to the World Series, so I won’t blame Thompson for taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. But this year is different. You’re going to have a superstar rejoining the club during the All-Star break, so sticking with a certain lineup for a few months only to have to make room for him somewhere in the middle of the season seems like a stretch. is exaggerated. Perhaps a more flexible approach is needed this year as the addition of Trea Turner creates options.
If you want, stick with Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot to start the season. It worked for most of last season, and boy did he have a flair for the dramatic, hitting home runs. But Turner needs a look at the top of the lineup at some point, and hopefully it won’t be a situation where Thompson tries to shake things up when they’re on a five-game losing streak. Maybe try something for a week or so to see how it goes. Or modify it depending on the opposite starter. I don’t want to see the team stuck with “1 Schwarber, 2 Turner, etc”. type composition.
After that, you fill out the 3-4-5 “meat” of the lineup without Harper at your disposal. Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto and Nick Castellanos are the most obvious candidates for these spots; Alec Bohm is probably playing.
I wouldn’t want Hoskins higher than fifth even if Harper is out. Ideally, Castellanos can clean up by bouncing back from his terrible 2022 season. I would give it a shot there for at least a few weeks.
Then Realmuto would be your #3 guy, and maybe you’d even want to hit him second in the order. What would a top class Schwarber-Realmuto-Turner look like? Or maybe Turner-Realmuto-Bohm? The thing is, the Phillies have several options, provided everyone is healthy and performing decently.
The lower third of the order can take several different forms. It will likely consist of Bryson Stott, Matt Vierling and Brandon Marsh most of the time. Opportunities for Nick Mathon and Edmundo Sosa won’t be rare either, and Garrett Stubbs will hit there on days he relieves Realmuto behind the plate. This group certainly isn’t the worst bullpen we’ve seen from the Phils in years, but it leaves something to be desired.
Maybe move Stott to sixth and Boehm to seventh? That seems to be the only current option, as the Phillies certainly aren’t putting any of their players making eight figures in that part of the lineup. However, when Harper returns, you must realize that everyone is moving down. His presence can help the bottom of the lineup as much as it bolsters the heart of the order.
Speaking of Bryce, what happens when he gets back? I’m pretty sure he’s the third. I didn’t like him in the postseason cleanup. After all, Harper will need as many at-bats as he can get during his run to the postseason, and you’d be missing out on a few of them if you hit him a spot lower. RBI opportunities are yet to come in the 3rd for this team. He may need some time to round out the form, but Bryce should be a “watch it and forget it” series that finished third.
Since I’m a proponent of Turner hitting over Schwarber, and given the lefty problem of hitting Schwarber before or after Harper, I offer this top six when Harper returns:
- Trea Turner:
- JT Realmuto
- Bryce Harper
- Nick Castellanos
- Kyle Schwarber
- Rhys Hoskins
I’m open to some moves and shuffling. But this sounds like a great mix to me. The key will be for Castellanos to turn in a much better season and for Schwarber and Hoskins to not cause any problems with their depressed positions in the order. This isn’t a punishment for anyone, just putting your three best hitters on top and then following it up with a more power dynamic before Boom/Stott/Marsh bottoms out.
While it’s less than ideal for your MVP to miss half a season, the Phillies have at least set themselves up for success even as Harper recovers. And in his absence, going too thin with the lineup’s pieces would be a waste of opportunity.
It’s time to mix and match. if necessary, draw the names out of the hat several times. Either way, the Phillies will have to look at teams differently so they can prepare harder and be less predictable without Harper’s offense. It will be another fun element of the 2023 season that we all look forward to.