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Don’t pass the buck, the blame belongs on the players

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be an angry rant.

I know, I know, you’ve never seen one of those on the internet before, but here goes anyway.

The pathetic display of baseball put forth by the Phillies against the worst team in the National League this week was nothing short of gross. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who entered their series against the Phils with a 38-81 record (.319 winning percentage), swept all three games by a combined score of 13-6 and outhit the Phils 24-14.

As NBC Sports’ Jim Salisbury noted, this wasn’t just any ordinary three-game sweep at the hands of a bad team, which happens from time to time. No, this was historic.

Not since 1969 had the Phillies been swept in a series of three or more games by a team that entered the series with a winning percentage of .320 or lower.

It happened to the Phillies in August 1923 when they were swept by the Boston Braves. It happened in September 1969 when they were swept by the Montreal Expos.

The past three weeks have been a roller coaster ride for the Phillies, and not in a fun, loop-de-loop, “gee I wanna do that again” kind of way.

When something that ridiculous happens, that ludicrous, that impossible, it’s understandable to search for answers and to cast blame. And while manager Joe Girardi has certainly had a hand in his team’s struggles this year, to call for Joe or any member of the coaching staff to be fired would be to ignore history.

It ain’t the manager. It’s the players.

The most important players on this team, it’s core, played the same brand of inconsistent baseball under Girardi’s predecessor, Gabe Kapler. The core of this team is full of well-paid veterans whose strength was supposed to be hitting the baseball. The Phils knowingly sacrificed defense for the sake of putting together a potent lineup, but that lineup has stopped hitting entirely since the end of that 8-game winning streak.

Yes, the Phillies have an easy schedule the rest of the way, although this weekend’s match-up with the Padres in San Diego will be a much tougher challenge. But it was demoralizing to watch the Phils fail to take advantage of a D-Backs team whose front office has decided not to win baseball games. They’ve given up on their season.

And make no mistake. They dominated the Phillies.

This was not a nip-and-tuck series. The Phils were not in any of these games. Arizona beat them easily. The Phillies did not suffer bad luck. They did not suffer a catastrophic run of bad injuries. Sure, they’re without Rhys Hoskins and Zach Eflin but, other than that, this team is relatively healthy.

The Phillies laid down for them. It was an embarrassment. And none of it would have mattered if the ghost of Casey Stengel had returned to manage this team.

By contrast, the Atlanta Braves, now with a comfortable four-game cushion in the NL East, also had a weak opponent this week, the Miami Marlins. The Braves, who lost Marcell Ozuna in the off-season and are without Ronald Acuna Jr. and Mike Soroka for the rest of the year, swept their three-game series and outscored Miami 25-11.

That’s taking care of business. That’s knowing how to win. The Braves have won three straight division titles, and that’s no coincidence.

It’s on the players. All of it. The Phillies have had a myriad of managers, pitching coaches, hitting coaches, and instructors come through those doors over the years and, year after year, the Phillies continually look prosperity in the face and scoff. They have won one big series in the last four years, one, against a New York Mets team that was in the midst of their own freefall when they came to Philadelphia earlier this month, and now it looks like the Phillies spent whatever energy, whatever moxie, whatever fight they had during that three-game sweep of New York.

To be clear, no matter what happens, the Phils are not about to conduct another rebuild. Dave Dombrowski is not about to do that. Bryce Harper is in the fourth year of a 13-year contract and he’s still just 28. J.T. Realmuto, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, and Zach Eflin are all still in their primes. Kyle Gibson is signed for next year. There’s no rebuild happening.

The success or failure of the 2021 season rests solely on the shoulders of the players who should, quite simply, be playing better than this. Until that happens, this team will remain in limbo for the foreseeable future, trapped between the gratingly frustrating bog of contention and rebuilding amidst the deafening roars of E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES! at Citizens Bank Park.

On the latest edition of Hittin’ Season, listen to my extended rant about the series and check out Leo Morgenstern as he joins me to talk about all the Phils’ ills. It’s fun, I promise!