The Philadelphia Phillies will once again enter October after another losing season, but this time they will have to endure the offseason while contemplating how they blew a division while being 15 games over .500 and looking like a certified playoff team.
Dumbfounded. That’s really the only word I can use to describe the bewildering fall from grace that the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies endured from August through September. At one point 15 games over .500, the Phillies had lost nine straight before beating the Atlanta Braves 3-0 Saturday night. It’s worth noting that Atlanta has already clinched the division, and doesn’t really have much to play for other than home field advantage.
The Phillies, on the other hand, had everything to play for this season. They sat in first place at the end of July, playing their best baseball in nearly six years. Baseball was alive and well again in Philadelphia, and there was a legitimate level of optimism and even expectation that the Phillies would be playing baseball in October this year. The only concern was whether or not they could keep the train on the tracks.
That question was answered almost as soon as the calendar page flipped to August. Now, with the Phillies eliminated from playoff contention and certain to end the season with a losing record, it’s safe to say that the Phillies’ train was derailed in dramatic fashion.
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The Phillies began the month of August by sweeping the Miami Marlins, and all was right in the world with two months left to go in the season and the Phillies looking to erase some demons. But those demons wouldn’t stay put.
The Phillies started losing series after series. They received fewer and fewer quality starts from Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velazquez. And the $75 million man Jake Arrieta was mostly a hollow version of himself this season, a mirage of sorts from his Chicago days.
By the time the seasons had changed hands and the winds began to pick up, the Phillies were all but cooked and on their way out the door in embarrassing fashion. And embarrassment is exactly what these players and coaches should be feeling after a road trip that saw them drop nine straight games and get swept by both the Braves and the Colorado Rockies.
For a team that at one point looked like a sure-fire playoff threat, the letdown can only be described as jaw-dropping. It doesn’t matter if this team wasn’t supposed to contend this season. there seems to be some prevailing notion that because the team overachieved and played above their heads, that the letdown is OK because it shows the team is ahead of schedule. That fans shouldn’t be angry at how the team performed down the stretch because no matter what, the season should be viewed as a success. So let’s break that down.
The Phillies will once again end the year with a losing season, either 79-83 or 80-82. You can call that progress if you want, but I call that another big disappointment, especially after the team showed it was capable of competing with the best teams in baseball throughout the summer. They flat-out packed it in and just stopped playing against the Braves and Rockies, and that fact is clear by looking at the results.
That’s not a success, and that doesn’t indicate growth or development. That indicates a serious problem, a problem that starts on the field and in the clubhouse and goes all the way up to the front office.
All parties need to shoulder the blame for the Phillies’ collapse. The players are a good place to start because these are the guys that play the game. Odubel Herrera, at one point hitting .368 this season, has had his face plastered on a milk carton since the end of the July. He’ll end the year with around a 2.50 batting average and an OPS around .730. Not good enough.
Let’s not forget Cesar Hernandez, who is another guy who brings so little to table offensively that it’s amazing the confidence he’s given by the organization. It’s time to find another leadoff man, and I think his name is Roman Quinn.
Three of the Phillies’ starting pitchers (Eflin, Velazquez, Pivetta) are inconsistent and right now huge question marks going into next year. And where does Carlos Santana continue to fit on this team? What about guys like Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Bour, and Wilson Ramos?
It certainly feels like the players have quit. How else do you explain a nine-game losing streak which included a four-game sweep by Colorado where the Phillies were outscored 39-7? It doesn’t matter if the players and the manager say they haven’t quit, because the optics paint a different picture. This isn’t baseball. It’s a team that ultimately packed it in, and it’s ugly.
There are almost assuredly more questions going into this offseason than this time last year, which is impressive considering the state this franchise was in at the time.
And let’s not forget about the Phillies’ embattled manager, Gabe Kapler. What a season for this guy. He came out of the gate with probably the worst possible first game a manager could expect to have, and then found himself in talks for manager of the year by the All-Star break.
And now, people want to see the man fired after overseeing the worst collapse in franchise history. And to be clear, the numbers support that statement. Per a tweet from Jayson Stark of the Athletic, no team has ever finished with a losing record after being 15 games above .500 through 113 games (via Todd Zolecki, MLB.com) The Phillies will be the first ever, and that should tell you something.
Kapler’s insistence on analytics has been talked about ad nauseam, but it deserves to be at the center of the conversation. Matt Klentak doesn’t get out of this easy either, because he’s the guy backing his manager and the hiring. Klentak, for what it’s worth, did his darndest to improve the team throughout the two trade deadlines, bringing several veteran players over in an attempt to help create more offense and limit the defensive mistakes, most notably at shortstop where Scott Kingery had been struggling.
The problem is that this move seems to have backfired. Klentak obviously thought he was adding depth to his team. But what he probably didn’t know was that his manager was about to blow the whole thing by playing fantasy baseball and mistaking strategy for Moneyball.
At one point during the season, Kapler had used over 100 different lineup combinations through two-thirds of the season. He clearly saw Klentak’s additions as shiny new toys that he could swap in and out of the lineup whenever the numbers called for it.
But players need to play every day, they need to establish a rhythm and get comfortable playing a position. Not only that, but there’s a mental aspect to it. Players build confidence through consistent outings. That can’t happen when playing a different position or batting a different spot every day. kapler needs to have a better understanding of this moving forward.
And so here we are, the Phillies arguably in no better shape than when they left the field in late September of 2017, save for the one bright spot in Aaron Nola, who will be this franchise’s ace for the next decade if he stays healthy. Klentak needs to figure out how to build a team around him, and that includes a competent pitching staff.
At the end of the day, what happened to the 2018 Phillies was embarrassing, no matter how you look at it. Everyone from the players to the coaches to the general manager needs to take responsibility and use this as motivation to get better and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.