Baseball is finally back. Good morning, Phillies fans, and welcome to the launch of Extra Innings, our new daily newsletter about the Phillies that is delivered each weekday morning to your inbox by the coverage team of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.
I'm writing from Atlanta, where I'll be joined by my colleague Bob Brookover for opening day, the first pitch of the Gabe Kapler era, and the start of the most anticipated Phillies season in quite some time. It is shaping up to be an exciting year led by an interesting manager and a team full of promising players whom we watched climb through the minors. It will certainly be fun to see how this whole thing pans out. We hope Extra Innings can bring you a little closer to it all.
— Matt Breen (email@example.com)
Gabe Kapler's first lineup card will be posted this afternoon, and there's a decent chance that J.P. Crawford will begin his first full season batting ninth, after the pitcher.
Crawford has been the Phillies' top prospect for most of the last three seasons. His arrival was almost expected. But batting ninth? That was a surprise. Kapler has his reasons. The manager wants Crawford's high on-base skills at the bottom of the lineup so he's on base when Rhys Hoskins or Carlos Santana comes to the plate. Crawford, Kapler said, is almost like an extra leadoff hitter. The shortstop has bought in.
"I love it," Crawford said. "I don't care where I hit; as long as I'm in the lineup every day, I'm happy. I want to do something every day to help my team win if that means batting 50th or batting ninth. I don't care. It doesn't matter to me. I'm in there, and I'm helping my team win wherever I hit."
Crawford seemed to get more comfortable late in spring training, as he left Florida with hits in seven of his last 10 games. He regularly grinds out at-bats and has no trouble working a walk. That's why he could well bat ninth. But the Phillies also think that Crawford has some power to tap into it. He hit 15 home runs last season at triple A, 13 of which came in his final two months before being promoted. Crawford said his power came when he shortened his swing and thought simply about making hard contact and not hitting homers.
"He's got a little thunder in that bat," bench coach Rob Thomson said. "And he walks. He has a good eye at the plate and has a chance to be a really good player."
Our Phillies preview is online and in today's Inquirer and Daily News. The cover story is about Gabe Kapler, who is different from any other Phillies manager. He comes from an interesting background, and the way he was raised has already seeped into how he manages the Phillies.
Bob Brookover wrote about Kapler's favorite word — "bold" – and Scott Kingery, the player who seems to best define it. The Phillies likely would not have signed Kingery to a long-term deal last week and brought him to Atlanta if he was not willing to be bold and follow Kapler's mission to play different positions.
Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta follow Aaron Nola in the rotation, and David Murphy writes that those two pitchers are two of the keys to determining if the Phillies can compete for a wild card. The Cheese also compares this Phillies team to the core of the current Cubs teams.
The Phillies were patient the last few seasons, as they stayed true to their rebuilding process. The expectations seemed to rise this winter when the team signed Santana and then added Jake Arrieta in spring training and signed Kingery. Matt Klentak, Mike Sielski writes, might now have to do something he has yet to do: make a key in-season move.
Today: Opening day in Atlanta, 4:10 p.m.; Aaron Nola vs. Julio Teheran
Tomorrow: Phillies in Atlanta, 7:35 p.m.; Nick Pivetta vs. Mike Foltynewicz
Saturday: Series finale in Atlanta, 7:10 p.m.; Vince Velasquez vs. Brandon McCarthy
April 5: Home opener at Citizens Bank Park vs. Miami, 3:05 p.m.
April 8: Jake Arrieta's Phillies debut
Bovada updated its MLB odds yesterday, and it was interesting to see the trends involving the Phillies. More bettors have waged "over" on the Phillies' win total (75.5) than any other team in baseball. The money line on the Phillies "over" is now up to -260, the highest among all 30 teams and only one of four to be higher than 200. There's so much confidence in the Phils that betting on them to win 76 games this season carries little reward.
The Phillies beefed up their bullpen this winter, and they'll have nine relief pitchers on opening day. But don't ask Kapler about roles. The manager has been wary of assigning defined roles to really any player, especially his relievers. Kapler instead plans to use his pitchers optimally, playing the matchups and inserting his best arms in the most crucial situations — and not just because it's the ninth inning. It's different, and we'll see how it works. Some pitchers thrive on routines.