Philadelphia Phillies Philes Vol 1.25: Another September collapse

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

As the Philadelphia Phillies hang on by a thread, we’ll examine the root of the problem while recognizing the efforts of two shining stars.

Leading off

Remember when the Philadelphia Phillies were in first place? Remember when they were leading the wild card race? Remember when they were holding down the second wild-card spot?

That was then; this is now.

Welcome to September, folks, where for the second straight year, the Phillies seem to be packing it in early. Following last night’s loss, they now sit 3.5 games back of the Cubs for the last wild card spot, with two teams ahead of them and little sign of hope.

Aaron Nola pitched a gem, yet the offense – the supposed strength of the team – couldn’t muster more than one run. That’s unacceptable. It also marked the fifth consecutive loss in game’s Nola started.

Again, unacceptable.

The season is on life support, and the players are doing their best to unplug the cord. Their manager isn’t helping. Nor has the GM or the rest of the baseball operations department. With 15 games to go, perhaps the team can find what’s left of its flickering heartbeat.

Incoming missile

When the Phillies signed Bryce Harper, everyone knew what to expect from an offensive standpoint. A pleasant surprise, however, has been what the 26-year-old has contributed in the field, particularly with his arm. With 12 outfield assists on the year, Harper ranks tied for second in all of baseball in gunning down base runners.

There was criticism of Harper’s defense before coming to Philly, but he has been an asset in the field all season long. His career-high in outfield assists is 13 recorded in 2013.

Who will ever forget this throw from the warning track earlier in the year against his old team?

The beauty of HUSTLE

In a season full of questionable effort and mental lapses, one player that has consistently played hard all year has been Scott Kingery. His effort would lead to two spectacular plays in the third inning of Tuesday night’s win against the Braves.

In the top half of the frame, Kingery made a game-altering diving catch, robbing Austin Riley and the Braves of a bigger inning. With bases loaded and one out, Scotty JetPax sprinted to the gap to secure a would-be bases-clearing hit. A runner would tag on the catch and score, but the Phillies escaped the inning with the game tied, 4-4.

Then in the bottom half, Kingery delivered with his bat and legs, scoring on an inside-the-park home run on a ball that Ronald Acuña Jr. almost caught. Kingery kept running and made it all the way around the bases, sliding safely into home headfirst. His inside-the-parker gave the Phillies a lead they’d never relinquish.

Kingery has had an excellent season considering his rookie campaign, and his hustle is one of the few certainties Gabe Kapler and Co. can always count on.

Most Valuable Phillie Power Rankings – Top 15 (through 9/14/2019):

  1. J.T. Realmuto (C) – Previous Rank: 1 (↔)
  2. Bryce Harper (OF) – Previous Rank: 3 (↑ 1)
  3. Aaron Nola (SP) – Previous Rank: 2 (↓ 1)
  4. Hector Neris (RP) – Previous Rank: 4 (↔)
  5. Cesar Hernandez (2B) – Previous Rank: 6 (↑ 1)
  6. Jean Segura (SS) – Previous Rank: 5 (↓ 1)
  7. Rhys Hoskins (1B) – Previous Rank: 7 (↔)
  8. Scott Kingery (OF/INF) – Previous Rank: 8 (↔)
  9. Corey Dickerson (OF) – Previous Rank: 10 (↑ 1)
  10. Jason Vargas (SP) – Previous Rank: 9 (↓ 1)
  11. Zach Eflin (SP) – Previous Rank: 15 (↑ 4)
  12. Ranger Suarez (RP) – Previous Rank: 14 (↑ 2)
  13. Jose Alvarez (RP) – Previous Rank: 13 (↔)
  14. Mike Morin (RP) – Previous Rank: 11 (↓ 3)
  15. Drew Smyly (SP) – Previous Rank: N/A (↑)

“Ring the Bell” Award Winner of the Week

This week’s award goes to Scott Kingery for his hustle and continuous effort all year, which was on full display Tuesday night. After a  game-altering diving catch, Kingery would step to the plate and do this:

Phillie Pholly of the Week

More from Philadelphia Phillies

Gabe Kapler and the Phillies’ analytics department once again share this week’s distinction for the terrible plate approaches they consistently preach to their hitters. Either that, or the hitters are just clueless.

Or maybe they’re just not that good.

In the bottom of the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s loss to the Braves, Kapler sent Jay Bruce and Logan Morrison up for consecutive pinch-hit at-bats. As typical, the Braves positioned their defense to the right side of the infield for the pull-heavy lefties.

And what did Bruce and Morrison do? Struck out on three pitches each.

With the Phillies down two late in the game, Kapler’s strategy clearly was to have each swing for the fences in hopes of tying the game via solo homers. Why not drop a bunt and work a rally? If the players aren’t good enough to successfully drop a bunt when the entire left side of the infield is empty, then they shouldn’t be in the big leagues.

As a fan, it’s maddening watching this same, awful approach because IT DOES NOT WORK. If it did, the Phillies wouldn’t be looking up at the Braves; they’d be looking down at everyone else.

As I said last week – and pretty much every week prior – the key to winning baseball is manufacturing runs. Why is this concept so foreign to Gabe Kapler and the Phillies front office? Are their computers telling them that this current strategy presents the best chance of winning?

Here are some numbers the Phillies’ math wizards seem to be overlooking:

  • 15.5 – the number of games they are behind the division-leading Braves
  • 3 – the number of teams with better records than them in their own division
  • 3.5 – the number of games they trail the second wild-card spot
  • 7 – the number of years since the organization last made the playoffs

Maybe they enjoy being the smartest person in the room, but I personally prefer winning baseball, something the Phillies haven’t consistently done. Yes, they’re on pace to finish over .500 for the first time since 2011, but what good is it if they’re the fourth-best team in their own division?

There’s a lot of work needed to catapult this team into contender status, and it starts at the top. Right now the Phillies front office is failing itself and the fans. Unless and until there’s change – in talent evaluation, player development, coaching philosophy (which includes at the plate) – the Phillies will continue producing another prominent number: ‘0.’ As in zero foreseeable championships.

Phillies Phlashback

Let’s go back 22 years to September 16, 1997 at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies lone bright spot for the year, Curt Schilling, would take the mound against the New York Mets.

Mike Lieberthal opened the scoring for the Phils, connecting on a two-run homer off the Mets’ Rick Reed in the bottom of the second. The Phillies would tack on an important run three innings later, as starting center fielder Midre Cummings delivered a base hit to right, scoring Kevin Stocker.

The Mets got to Schilling in the eighth, scoring a run on an RBI double by Carlos Baerga. Brian McRae would hit a solo homer off Schilling in the ninth as the Phillies and Schilling hung on for the 3-2 win.

Schilling finished his complete-game effort with nine strikeouts and zero walks on just 111 pitches. In doing so, he joined Steve Carlton as the only Phillies pitchers with 300 strikeouts in a season, and just the 13th in baseball history at the time. He’d go on to accomplish this feat two more times in his career, including the very next year for the Phils when he finished with 300 K’s exactly.

No other Phillies pitcher has accomplished this since.

Next. Phillies should feel regret over not signing Dallas Keuchel. dark

On Deck

After today’s finale with the Red Sox, the Phillies head south for a three-game series with the Braves again, before heading to Cleveland for their final interleague matchup of the year against the 86-win Indians.