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Real World: A Phillies Postmortem

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Recapping the Phillies’ season with a little help from Matchbox 20

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Normally around this time, I’d be posting a preview of the Phillies’ next series. Since the Phillies’ season has come to an unsatisfying conclusion, and there are no more series to be played until 2019, I will instead provide you with a recap of sorts of the 2018 season.

I’ve decided to pay tribute to our site manager Liz Roscher by basing the story around lyrics from her favorite song: Real World by Matchbox 20.

In case you’ve managed to evacuate this song from your memory banks at some point in the last decade, I’ve embedded the video, so it can once again be brought to the forefront of your consciousness:

Straight up what did you hope to learn about here?

What did we learn about the Phillies in 2018? Did we learn anything? Were they a bad team who played above their heads for a few months, or a good team that spent the final two months choking? Will all of the position players be back in 2019? Will none of them be back? Will they all be back, but in different positions than in 2018?

The only thing I can be certain of is that if Asdrubal Cabrera is back in 2019, I will not be happy.

If I was someone else, would this all fall apart?

There seems to be a lot of debate over how much credit Gabe Kapler should get for the Phillies’ better-than-expected performance through July, and how much blame he should receive for the collapse of August and September.

I don’t think fans will ever be able to properly assess Kapler as a manager. There was definitely a subset of fans who were so desperate for the team to embrace analytics that they felt duty bound to praise the analytically-inclined manager no matter what. There were also fans who wrote him off from day one as a weirdo who only did what the computers told him to.

My belief is that many of the team’s problems stemmed from the fact that Kapler is a first-year manager, making the kind of mistakes that a first-year manager makes. That said, the guy does seem like kind of a weirdo.

It’s also been called to my attention that he kind of resembles Jean Claude Van Damme, and now I can’t unsee it:

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger - Premiere: Cannes Film Festival Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images

I wonder what it’s like to be the rainmaker

After his amazing debut last year, people were really bullish on Rhys Hoskins. After the record-setting start to his career, it didn’t seem unreasonable to think that he was going to become the greatest home run hitter in baseball history. His season didn’t quite reach that level, although his offensive numbers were certainly good.

However, there were some problems. The team thought (hoped?) he could hack it as a full-time outfielder, but according to every known metric as well the eye test, he absolutely could not hack it. While he might be able to improve slightly with more experience, it seems likely that he’s always going to be a defensive liability in the outfield.

That problem could be solved by moving him to first base, but I’m not sure what you do about his extreme streakiness. His hot streaks were marvelous to behold, but he’d also suffer through weeks when he looked absolutely lost at the plate. He’s still relatively inexperienced, so he might get better at limiting his cold spells, but he wouldn’t be the first good hitter to spend his entire career alternating between hot and cold streaks.

Ultimately, when it comes to his status as a middle of the lineup bat, I feel the same way I used to feel about the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds as a goal scorer: You want him as a guy, but not necessarily the guy.

Also, I think he should go back to the Magneto helmet, because I thought that looked cool.

I’d store it in boxes with little yellow tags on every one.

Just about every player on the roster should have a “For Sale” tag on them this offseason. Aside from Aaron Nola, I don’t think there’s one player I wouldn’t trade for the right price.

Cesar Hernandez has been a productive player for a few seasons, but it feels like he’s reached his ceiling. Maikel Franco improved this season, but Baseball Reference still has him worth only 0.2 WAR. Nick Williams had some good moments, but will he ever be anything more than the third best outfielder on a playoff team?

Perhaps the player most in need of a trade is the one who had the most perplexing season of all...

I wonder what it’s like to be a superhero. I wonder where I’d go if I could fly around downtown.

After his first three seasons, many people expected Odubel Herrera to be a permanent fixture in the Phillies future. Yes, he was prone to mental mistakes and slumps, but overall, he had been a positive for the Phillies on both offense and defense. Early in the season, he had a lengthy on-base streak, and carried the offense for much of April and May.

That success did not continue, and it’s not clear what changed. Did he hit a few home runs, and decide that he was a power hitter to the detriment of his overall game? Did his lapses on defense become more frequent, or did we just notice them more because the Phillies were playing meaningful games late in the season?

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Boy I bet my friends will all be stunned

It’s amazing that the Phillies stayed in the race as long as they did considering the absurd number of gut-punch losses they suffered. There was the Opening Day Disaster, the Hector Neris Ninth Inning Follies, the “Maybe Adam Morgan Shouldn’t Pitch to Jason Heyward in a Key Spot” game, the “Oh No, Not Seranthony Too” game, and several others which I’ve mercifully managed to forget about.

To their credit, the Phillies usually managed to bounce back from these awful losses. But if they had just taken care of business and won the games they should have, would this have been a playoff team?

I wonder what it’s like to be the head honcho. I wonder what I’d do if they all did just what I said.

Kapler drew a lot of heat from fans, but it’s obvious that he was given an imperfect roster to work with by general manager Matt Klentak. When you’ve got first basemen spending a lot of time in both left field and third base, as well as a second baseman playing every position but second base, it makes for an “interesting” defense.

Hindsight tells us that instead of singing a redundant first baseman in Carlos Santana, Klentak probably should have aggressively pursued a trade for outfielder Christian Yelich. But while Yelich has always been a good player, there were very few people who expected Yelich to be quite this good. Cole Hamels was another potential trade target who would have helped the team, but prior to returning to the National League, he was having a poor season.

Colorado Rockies v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

To his credit, Klentak certainly tried to improve the team at the trade deadline, unfortunately none of the moves he made could really be qualified as a major success. I realize that many fans don’t have fond memories of the guy, but at least Ruben Amaro knew how to make an in-season trade that helped the team.

Please don’t change, please don’t break. The only thing that seems to work at all is you.

The one thing Phillies fans can feel confident about going forward is the very top of their pitching rotation. Aaron Nola established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and there were a few times when it felt like he was single-handedly keeping them in the race. The rotation obviously needs some bolstering, but mid-rotation starters are usually obtainable if you want one. Finding an ace is much more difficult.

Strange, where were you when we started this gig?

When the Phillies were winning, they were largely being carried by their starting rotation. When the Phillies were losing, they were largely being dragged down by their starting rotation. Were they overachieving in the first half? Did they underachieve in the second? Did they simply wear down? If you were asked whether or not the 2018 Phillies had good starting pitching, how would you answer that question?

Nola and Jake Arrieta likely aren’t going anywhere next year, but what do you do with the trio of Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and Zach Eflin? Keep them in the rotation, move them to the bullpen, fire them into the sun?

Philadelphia Phillies v Colorado Rockies
What do they do with Nick Pivetta?
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

I wish the real world would just stop hassling me

In the end, the Phillies were a flawed team which probably deserved to finish right around .500. It was fun while they were winning games and leading the division, but there were always signs (middling run differential, performance in one-run games) that it wouldn’t last.

Watching the team collapse was agonizing, but at least we got to watch them play meaningful games in September for the first time in seven years. There are a lot of questions to be answered, and a busy offseason ahead, but this season has given me some hope that we’ll soon get to watch meaningful games in October as well.