USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Keys to victory

- – Bob Nightengal­e

Finding a closer: The Phillies, after dropping $397 million on the free agent market, better have a stud closer if they’re going to win their first World Series title since 2008. The Phillies grabbed veteran relievers Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto and Matt Strahm, but they still don’t know who will close games in 2023. Kimbrel may have 394 career saves, but he struggled so badly he didn’t make the Dodgers’ playoff roster. Soto is a two-time All-Star with the Tigers but who has control problems. And Strahm has only four career saves. Another leading candidate is Seranthony Dominguez.

... and fifth starter: The Phillies need to find a reliable fifth starter now that rookie Andrew Painter is hurt. The Phillies planned to go with Painter, their top pitching prospect, but he has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow that will sideline him until midsummer. Painter’s departure leaves Bailey Falter, Cristopher Sanchez, Michael Plassmeyer and Nick Nelson as the top candidates for the spot.

Stay alive: Bryce Harper

is out until the All-Star break while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Certainly, a year ago they proved their resilience when Harper missed 52 games with a fractured left thumb, with the Phillies going 32-20. They believe they have the firepower to withstand his injury this time around, too. Who knows, Harper may even be able to return early after having Tommy John surgery on Nov. 23. “Doctors are very happy with where he is,” Phillies President Dave Dombrowski says.

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