If we wanted to, we could spin the 2021 Phillies season in positive terms. Watch. 

The Phillies in 2021 posted their first winning record in a decade. 

See? That's a fact and it sounds like they had great success. 

Of course, context matters. The Phillies were just 82-80 and it was just a one-game improvement from 2019 and two games better than 2018. There was a 28-32 season in 2020 wedged in there, so the Phillies have been stagnating for four years now after their rebuild. 

They made two big splashes late in free agency to add a pair of sluggers. They've added some bullpen arms in hopes to change things up with that group, too. 

After five straight playoff berths that yielded two pennants and one World Series title from 2007-2011, could the Phillies now break their ensuing 10-year playoff drought? 

Win total projection, odds

  • 2021 record: 82-80 (second in NL East; missed playoffs)
  • 2022 Sportsline projection: 82-80
  • World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): +3000

Projected lineup

  1. Kyle Schwarber, LF
  2. Nick Castellanos, DH
  3. Bryce Harper, RF
  4. J.T. Realmuto, C
  5. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  6. Jean Segura, 2B
  7. Didi Gregorius, SS
  8. Alec Bohm, 3B
  9. Odúbel Herrera, CF

Bench: C Garrett Stubbs, UT Johan Camargo, OF Adam Haseley, OF Matt Vierling

Vierling has played more right and left in his professional career than center field, but he's seen time there. As a right-handed hitter to Herrera's left, he fits as a platoon center fielder with this team. In 77 plate appearances last season, Vierling hit .324/.364/.479 with three doubles, a triple and two homers. In 80 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit .277/.358/.444 with 12 doubles, two triples, 11 homers and 10 steals. 

Projected rotation

  1. RHP Zack Wheeler
  2. RHP Aaron Nola
  3. RHP Kyle Gibson
  4. LHP Ranger Suárez
  5. RHP Zach Eflin

Eflin had surgery to repair the patellar tendon in his right knee last September and he will likely be ready to join the rotation at some point in April. The Phillies' fifth game comes on April 12. If he's not ready for that turn, they could turn to someone else (Hans Crouse?), but it shouldn't be long. 

Projected bullpen

Closer: RHP Corey Knebel
Setup: LHP José Alvarado, RHP Jeurys Familia, LHP Brad Hand
Middle: RHP Connor Brogdon, RHP Sam Coonrod, RHP Seranthony Domínguez

There's one bullpen spot left and there will be a revolving door. Righties Dillon Maples and Nick Nelson along with lefty Ryan Sherriff are three prime candidates to get work. 

Now, for five things to know about the 2022 Phillies.

1. The bats are mighty

The Phillies offense now includes some extra-base machinery:

  • Harper is still only 29 and coming off his second MVP award. Last year he had 42 doubles and 35 homers. He's hit 42 homers in a season before. 
  • Heading to his age-30 season, Castellanos had 38 doubles and 34 homers in 138 games last year. He doubled 58 times in 2019 and had 14 homers in 60 games in 2020. 
  • Schwarber hit 32 homers in just 113 games last year. He hit 38 in 2019. There's 45-homer upside here. 
  • Hoskins had 29 doubles and 27 homers last season in only 107 games. He's hit 34 home runs in a season before. 
  • Realmuto, then, in terms of power, is the "light" hitter here. In 134 games last season, he had 25 doubles, four triples and 17 homers. His career highs are 36 doubles, seven triples and 25 home runs. At 31 years old, he's still in his prime, too. 

There was certainly some personnel shuffling (Andrew McCutchen had 27 homers and .222 isolated power), but overall, the extra-base upside with this group is the best the Phillies have seen in a long time. 

There is, of course, a possibly big decline to the bottom third of the lineup. A Bohm breakthrough at age 25 would go a long way in helping to avoid that fate, as would Vierling turning out to be a quality offensive player. 

The Phillies were seventh in the NL in runs last season, sixth in home runs, eighth in slugging and seventh in OPS. They'll be looking for Schwarber and Castellanos to help boost Harper and company into the upper third of the NL this time around. 

2. The gloves are not

One of the most basic ways to measure the effectiveness of a defense is defensive efficiency. That is the percentage of balls put in play converted into outs. The Phillies were at .687 last season, well below average and better than only six teams. Range and positioning are major factors in that stat, but the Phillies made too many errors, too, as only eight teams made more. 

Though he's not nearly as bad in left as his reputation says, Schwarber is below average in left field. Castellanos is a below-average right fielder, but that's where Harper plays. Castellanos has hardly even ever played left field. The rest of the defense is largely the same. 

That is to say, the defense is likely to be bad. 

3. Ace(s?), but what else? 

Without getting deep into the weeds in semantics with the term, it's fair to call Wheeler an ace and I'm not going to waste a bunch of time on the topic with him.

Is Nola? He correctly finished third in NL Cy Young voting in 2018. He took a step back in 2019, but still topped 200 innings, struck out 229 and was pretty good at run prevention (3.87 ERA, 115 ERA+). He looked very good in his 12 starts in 2020, though it's hard to judge with that season. In 32 starts last year, he had a 4.63 ERA (90 ERA+). He also struck out 223 in 180 2/3 innings, his 1.12 WHIP was good and -- on a surface level -- the 3.37 FIP suggested his was pretty harshly screwed by the aforementioned defense. Of course, it should then be mentioned Wheeler played in front of that same defense and that bad defense will return in 2022. 

Gibson was very good for the Rangers then melted down after a move to Philadelphia at the trade deadline (again, defense likely had a hand in it, but it'll be the same). We've probably seen enough from Eflin to know, when healthy, he'll be a fine back-end or even mid-rotation arm, but not more. 

Then there's Suárez. The 26-year-old southpaw started last season in the bullpen but then moved to the rotation for the last two months. In 12 starts, he posted a 1.51 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings. In his last two outings, he threw 16 scoreless innings, striking out 16 with only one walk. The stuff suggests Suárez has what it takes to become a frontline starter for a full season, so, yes, Suárez's upside is immense. We just haven't seen it for very long. 

A best-case scenario here sees a trio of aces with Gibson and Eflin pitching like quality mid-rotation starters. There's plenty of downside, too, though, where Nola is merely slightly above-average, Suárez's last two months end up looking like a fluke while Eflin and Gibson aren't very good. 

4. How does the bullpen shake out? 

The Phillies' bullpen these last several years has been little more than a punchline. No one blew more saves in 2021 and only five teams had a worse bullpen ERA. We could keep looking, but it's bad everywhere. 

Knebel could settle things. Health has been an issue with him, as he had elbow issues in 2014 and then missed 2019 after Tommy John surgery. When he's right, though, Knebel is filthy. In 27 outings for the Dodgers last year, he struck out 30 and pitched to a 2.45 ERA with a 0.97 WHIP. He looked a lot like the 2017 All-Star Knebel. 

Alvarado is tough to hit (.213 average, .325 slugging against last season), but he walks way too many batters. If they can bump him down a few slots in the pecking order, he'd be a lot less worrisome. 

Hand went to three straight All-Star Games from 2017-19, but has been less effective since. Still, he did mostly-quality work for the Mets in September last year and, at age 32, should have plenty left in the tank. 

Speaking of the Mets, Familia also comes over from Queens. Once one of the best closers in the league, he's far removed from that. He's also still 32 years old, which isn't young but certainly isn't well past prime years or anything. He struck out 72 in 59 1/3 innings last season. 

Only the most homerific of Phillies fans could squint their way to optimism with this group moving toward a strength, but there's a path to not being an Achilles heel. It lies in the best versions of Knebel, Hand and Familia giving the Phillies the ability to use Alvarado one or two tough batters at a time. Those four could form the backbone of a group that isn't embarrassing. 

5. Wild Card hope

Anyone following along here would likely agree this is a very talented and very flawed baseball team. They'll have their great stretches and they'll have some extreme struggles. We'll see home run barrages and pitching meltdowns -- encouraged greatly by poor defense. 

It's easy to say the Braves and Mets are superior to this group and that both are firmly in "win-now" mode, so they'll be aggressive in supplementing their rosters with in-season moves in order to keep pushing for the division title. 

It isn't difficult to see this Phillies team as an improvement from the 2021 version, however, and that one would have been just one game out of the now-implemented third NL wild card spot.

As things stand, the Braves and Dodgers are really the only sure things in the NL. The Mets are likely to be good, just as the Brewers are probably pretty good. The Cardinals will surely be a playoff contender. How many NL teams would you really, definitively slot above the Phillies, though? 

I don't think we can get to six without a strenuous argument. 

All this is to say, this flawed ballclub looks like a fringe playoff team. And then who knows what could happen, especially if Wheeler, Suárez and Nola are all throwing the ball well.