On Episode 216 of “Hittin’ Season,” host John Stolnis talks about the Phillies 0-8 road trip and the announcement by general manager Matt Klentak that manager Gabe Kapler and his entire staff will be back in 2019. Are both men on the hot seat heading into next year? The Ringer’s Michael Baumann joins the show to talk about the Phils’ struggles over the last seven weeks and about Kapler’s future, and Lakewood Blueclaws star relief pitcher Zach Warren stops by to talk about his outstanding season for the Phils’ Single-A affiliate this year.
It appears the Phillies’ collapse will be one of historic proportions.
Here's that #Phillies stat I unveiled with @MikeMiss975 on @975TheFanatic just now:— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) September 26, 2018
I looked at every team that was 15+ games over .500 after 113 games. Not one of them finished with a losing record.
So if the Phillies don't win 2 of their next 4, they'll be the first. Ever!
Heading into the series finale against the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies had been outscored 34-4 in the first three games and are 0-7 on this road trip. An 0-8 road trip would be their worst since an 0-8 trip in 2015. It’s hard to see any way the Phillies win three out of their last four games and finish with a winning record — heck it’s hard to see them winning any of their last four games.
Nevertheless, manager Gabe Kapler is coming back in 2018, as general manager Matt Klentak made clear when speaking to reporters prior to last night’s 14-0 loss in Denver. Earlier, Kapler said his entire coaching staff will return in 2019, meaning the entire field staff that took the Phillies through this once-promising-turned-disastrous season will be back.
“When we hired Kap, we knew that he is progressive,” Klentak said (quotes via Phillies.com). “It was in my judgement that this was a good year to be progressive and try new things, because expectations were modest and we had a lot of young players and a new manager. Some of the things we’ve tried have not worked, and we know that and very publicly everybody found out that they didn’t work and we’ve made adjustments. Some of the things that he’s done and that we’ve done as an organization have worked really well. And we’ve taken some positive steps forward, and we will continue to incorporate those things next year.”
Is Klentak right? Sure. Much of this season was fun. They were in first place for more than a month and were the second-best team in the National League as the calendar flipped to August. They had a better-than 64% chance of making the playoffs after their early-August sweep of the Marlins. But it’s clear now much of that fun was due to a starting rotation that propped up a bad lineup, a bad defense, and an uneven bullpen.
It’s also clear injuries have played a part in the team’s more-recent struggles. Aaron Altherr is lost for the season with a broken toe after running into the outfield wall, and Maikel Franco, Roman Quinn, Cesar Hernandez, Nick Williams and Wilson Ramos have been dealing with nagging injuries that have kept them out of the lineup for the last couple weeks, at least. Those caveats are not insignificant, nor do they explain everything that’s happened.
Klentak did say “significant changes are necessary” heading into 2019. But, if the entire field staff is going to return, what changes could they be?
Perhaps the team will change the way they use defensive shifts. Perhaps they will change the way they put lineups together. Perhaps they will stop trying to jam players into defensive positions they cannot play. Perhaps Kapler will be freer to use his gut more, or perhaps they will become even more reliant on match-up data. Perhaps they will change how they develop players, both at the minor league level and the Majors. Perhaps they will make sure a couple players get themselves ejected next year (kidding about that last one).
Those are just a few of the things that could be addressed. However, the biggest changes are likely to come by bringing in new players.
This is the most important off-season in recent Phillies history. Despite the collapse that has consumed the last quarter of the season, the team did take a small step forward this year. The starting rotation appears to have one ace and a few very interesting pieces. That is the most important thing. They should be ready to offer more money to Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper than any other team in the league.
It goes too far to say Klentak will be judged solely on whether he’s able to land Machado or Harper, because if both players sign somewhere else, there are other options out there. The Phils could sign Patrick Corbin to further strengthen the rotation. They could add a reliable closer in Zach Britton. They could buy a solid offensive/defensive player in A.J. Pollock. They could roll the dice on Josh Donaldson.
Not only that, the Phillies have a million decisions to make with the existing 25-man roster. Nola and Hoskins appear untouchable, but every other member of the roster is fair game in a trade. They could use some of their 25-man roster players and/or minor league pitching prospects to bring in more talent, too. This roster could, and should, look radically different by the time the team reports to Clearwater next March.
Klentak did say one thing that was worth an eyebrow-raise, however.
“We all need to fight the narrative that it’s a simple fix,” Klentak said. “There’s a lot of things we can do, and we’re going to address a lot of things.
Let me assure you, Matt, no one believes there is a simple fix to all this. We know the task ahead of this franchise this off-season is daunting, with enough moving pieces and possibilities to boggle the mind. How do you fix both an offense and defense at the same time? How do you build a stable bullpen while not throwing away some of the young, talented arms that are there? How do you bring in fresh blood in the rotation without removing a pitcher who may be on the way up?
Regardless of what happens this off-season, this team will be expected to win next year. No excuses. Klentak will be expected to have given his manager a quality product on the field, and Kapler will be expected to string together victories.
Klentak is right, this was the year to experiment. The Phillies likely received a lot of data thanks to these experiments, and will use that data to do things differently moving forward. That being said, it’s also clear that, after the disastrous turn this season has taken and the stakes that lie ahead, both Klentak and Kapler will be on the hot seat heading into 2019.