6 early-season questions for the Philadelphia Phillies

Now that the Philadelphia Phillies have decided to start the 2024 season with largely the same team that finished ’23, can we identify any early-season indicators of their success level for the overall season? Most thinking Philly fans could probably come up with a decent what-to-look-for list, and the bet here is most of the following points would be included.

Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Six
Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Six / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

These will be presented as questions, and affirmative answers would be what Phillies fans are looking for.

First, round about Tax Day, or perhaps May Day, can we say that Trea Turner is not off to the slow start he began his first season in Philly with? Turner is one of baseball’s best players – a fine hitter, a good fielder most seasons, a premier base-stealer (in modern terms), and one of the game’s most graceful athletes. Oddly, then, he started off the ’23 campaign in a bumbling manner -- and, as a fielder, he bumbled through the entire season.

However, also quite oddly, a local talk-radio station pushed the notion of vocally welcoming Turner back home after a road trip in early August after his months-long slump. And the generally cynical Phillies fan base in attendance at Citizens Bank Park on Aug. 4 did exactly that. As though a switch were flipped, the shortstop started to hit, posting .333 and .299 batting averages in August and September, respectively.

Turner’s switch needs to be flipped this season in early April. A few more drills with infield coach Bobby Dickerson wouldn’t hurt, either.

Phillies Questions: Can Trea Turner start sooner? And what's up with Nick Castellanos' trajectory?

Second, is right-fielder Nick Castellanos maintaining his “bounce-back” 2023 effort into ’24?

What is it now with big name players signing with Philadelphia? Are the scrutiny and fan base in Philly really that intimidating? Apparently.

As the Fightin’s fans know well, Castellanos stumbled in ’22 worse than Turner did last season. Also, in my unofficial survey of Phillies fans this offseason, Castellanos has led all other Phillies as the candidate to be traded to make room for keeping Rhys Hoskins, which makes little sense a) because Bryce Harper has been officially installed at first base, and b) Castellanos led the Phillies last season in RBI with 106.

Runs batted in have always been baseball’s least appreciated statistic. Castellanos needs to keep producing them.

Third, is the recently re-signed co-ace Aaron Nola (seven years, $172 million) looking like the pitcher who has posted sub-3.00 ERAs and WHIPS as low as 0.961? This is a vital question, because Nola can also be that pitcher who posts ERAs above 4.00, WHIPs as high as 1.306, and gives up too many home runs between the fourth and sixth innings.

This may not literally be a question that will be definitive by June 1, 2024, but it would be nice to think by that date that the team doesn’t appear to be saddled with that second kind of Nola with an untradeable contract. Most Phillies fans hope for a valuable Nola for his whole career, which will result, minimally, in his number 27 being painted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame.

Fourth (and here’s your surprise question): Is Jeff Hoffman for real? The imposing, hard-throwing right-hander came to be a reliever the Phillies leaned on in ’23. His reward was avoiding arbitration and a $2.2 million contract this offseason. Clearly, Philadelphia management sees Hoffman as the proverbial “high leverage” option out of the bullpen, and he needs open the season throwing cruise missiles.

By June 1, Hoffman will be expected to match his 2.41 ERA and 0.917 WHIP from last season. Those numbers may not quite be matched for the full coming season, but it would be nice if he can approach his 3.63:1 SO/W ratio from 2023.

Fifth, how good early on is the other co-ace Zach Wheeler in his age-34 season? Full stop.

Sixth, will the unknown player Trader Dave Dombrowski surely signs before Opening Day in order to tweak his lineup produce?

In any event, if the answer to any of the above questions is no, at least the Phillies are looking forward to a full season with Bryce Harper on the field.