As June began, the Phillies were three games up on the Braves and ten games up on the Nationals. Today is July 5th, and the Phillies are 6.5 games back of the Braves and a half game behind the Nationals. One could essentially argue the Phillies season could be split right at the point Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL, pre and post, but it would not be fair to blame that for even most things that are wrong. This team’s flaws are deep, and they are not simply any single dramatic move away from being fixed.
The offense certainly doesn’t deserve even the bulk of the blame for this team’s struggles, but it can’t be absolved either. Bryce Harper is on pace to set a career high in RBIs, hit close to 30 homers, and post about a 4 WAR season, and yet you can argue they needed more. The season has been quite streaky for Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez, while JT Realmuto has been steadily good, but not great. Odubel Herrera’s poor play and personal issues, and the persistent struggles of Maikel Franco have done a number on this line-up’s consistency. McCutchen and his replacement Jay Bruce have been steady surprises. Rhys Hoskins is on pace to post a 35 homer, 100 plus RBI, north of 4 WAR season. And yet with all of this, the offense is disappointing. John Mallee seems to just be getting an adequate performance from a line-up expected to dominate. Many players are not meeting their norms. The bench lacks depth. In fact, if you remove Scott Kingery’s breakthrough season, the offense is disappointing. How does Mallee have his job?
The Phillies do not have a major league starting pitching staff, and their bullpen has had more talent on the injured list than throwing in the seventh and eighth innings. Aaron Nola is rounding into ace form, in July. Zach Eflin has shown himself, last night not withstanding, to be a solid mid-rotation starter. Jake Arrieta is basically a $25 million innings eater at this point. Vince Velasquez is not a Major League starter. Nick Pivetta shows flashes, but the start that got him demoted and the 7.33 ERA over his last four starts suggests he needs a bullpen look soon. Post injuries Jerad Eickhoff just doesn’t locate his fastball or get his curveball below the bat enough. None of the highly successful AAA arms look capable. Robertson, Neshek, Morgan, Hunter, and Dominguez, all key parts to the bullpen, have missed significant time. That’s caused Nicasio, Alvarez, Ramos, and others to be exposed as incapable of high leverage seventh and eighth inning appearances. The Phillies let 2018 pitching coach Rick Kranitz walk to Atlanta in the off-season, giving the job to Chris Young. Young said the rotation’s young guys would be fine with him. It’s hard to defend the job he’s done.
All of the falls together on Gabe Kapler. His coaches are his coaches. The team has had several instances where players didn’t hustle, a Kapler issue. The team refuses to play “small ball” at all, a Kapler issue. The team hit an awful swoon last August and September, and collapsed. This June they hit another slide they have yet to really emerge from. Kapler has yet to show he can fix the flaws of his team. It’s hard to defend him, given the influx of talent he received.
And if the Phillies want to go be buyers to fix their problems, what would they even offer? The prospect pool is pretty shallow. Just two of their prospects appear in MLB’s top 100. Trading out of their top 5 is likely to do serious harm to the 2020 team, given their current levels. The AAA team has fallen off a cliff, and most of the others aren’t contending for the post-season either. Just two of Matt Klentak’s draftees have made the majors so far. Two. 2016 #1 overall pick Mickey Moniak has flashed some brilliance in AA this year, but following a scorching hot June, he just went on the injured list.
The hitting is underwhelming, the pitching is hurt and bad, the coaching is questionable, and the minor leagues are bare- when do we start blaming Matt Klentak? While it’s clear that all of these things need to be fixed, do you want Klentak to even be allowed to oversee that. He hired Kapler. He traded the emerging JP Crawford. He let Kranitz go for Young. He gave money to Carlos Santana and Michael Saunders, and signed a declining Arrieta. He drafted all these guys not good enough to make it. Is Klentak and his team who you want to fix this team? The guy who thought this pitching staff was good enough? Really?
So I guess that leads all the way up- Team President Andy MacPhail, and the man who hired him, team managing partner John Middleton. The team they have has enough raw talent to be good, but clearly needs a full cleanse to put the people in place to fix it. Does it stop at adding a player or two? Replacing a coach or two? A new manager? A new front-office? Ultimately it falls on John Middleton, a man who has been willing to sign over gigantic sums of his own money to players in an effort to try and win. How far up the chain is this thing rotten? How many changes are needed? Who does he have confidence in to get things right? With all of the tough decisions awaiting, who does Middleton trust with his money, to fix this thing and put the Phillies back in the post-season?
Because let’s be serious- if this team looks in the mirror, they’re not a playoff team right now.