PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said emphatically Monday that Gabe Kapler will be his manager through the 2019 season and there will be no changes to the coaching staff, despite a recent stretch of poor play that has spotlighted season-long struggles from the lineup and pitching staff.
It is Kapler and Co. or bust.
“Gabe Kapler is our manager. Our staff is our staff,” Klentak said before the Phillies’ series opener against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.
“I’ve been a part of organizations that have made in-season staff changes before. You have to believe that if you’re going to do that that your alternative is better than your status quo. And I believe in our guys. The key to this group succeeding is this group coming together and doing it as a unit. Players, coaches, manager, front office, and believing in each other.”
The Phillies were 33-22 with a 3 1/2 game lead over the Braves in the National League East on May 29. They entered Monday 39-38 with a season-high seven-game losing streak and found themselves 6 1/2 games behind the Braves. The Phillies have lost 10 games in the standings during their 6-16 stretch.
The Phillies believe this is simply a poor stretch of play, which will come to an end soon.
In fact, they expect to be buyers before the July 31 trade deadline.
“Let's face it,” Klentak said. “This is the same team that was in first place two weeks ago. This is the same team that looked like a juggernaut for the first two weeks of the year. This is the same team that went toe-to-toe with the best teams in the NL about a month ago. That has not radically changed. Our place in the standings has changed. We have not played good baseball. That is stating the obvious. To lose faith in our players, to lose faith in our staff is the wrong thing to do at this time. We're proud to stick with these guys and rally together.”
Klentak said he spent time Sunday with Phillies managing partner John Middleton. He said Middleton is frustrated, but he is not panicking. Klentak also said he had lunch with a few players on Monday. He said nobody in the clubhouse is panicking or concerned, based on those conversations, and he believes Kapler’s methods will lead to a resurgence.
“Nobody works harder, nobody communicates better and he continues to make adjustments and get better,” Klentak said.
Klentak said he supports Kapler’s decisions not to bench players that have not hustled, which has been an issue lately.
“We work for the Philadelphia Phillies and we need to give the Phillies the best chance we have to win,” he said. “To penalize the other 24 guys on the field by benching one and not putting our best lineup out there is not the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean you don’t address that. The instances you are asking about have been addressed and some of those conversations are very tough. They can get uncomfortable, but don’t for a second think they are flying under the radar and nobody is doing anything about them.”
The Phillies’ offense is 12th in the National League in batting average (.240), 10th in on-base percentage (.320), 11th in slugging percentage (.412), 10th in OPS (.732) and 12th in home runs (91). One possible explanation for the offense’s struggles -- despite the high-profile additions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen -- is that the Phillies cannot hit fastballs. The Athletic wrote on Monday that the Phillies have a lower slugging percentage hitting fastballs in the strike zone in 2019 (.489) and 2018 (.464) than 2017 (.505). Their weighted on-base average on fastballs in the strike zone also is lower in 2019 (.331) and 2018 (.318) than 2017 (.342).
The 2017 team lost 96 games, but it played well in the second half. The Phillies changed hitting coaches following the ’17 season, letting Matt Stairs go to San Diego and hiring John Mallee, whom the Cubs had dismissed. Is it possible Mallee is not reaching the players with his methods or messages?
“I mean, it’s possible,” Klentak said. “It’s something we have to look into and it’s the type of conversation that we’re having routinely. I will also, on the topic of John Mallee, remind you that just a few short years ago he was the hitting coach for an offensive juggernaut World Series champion in Chicago. I don’t think he forgot how to coach hitting. I think this is a bad stretch.”
The Phillies dismissed pitching coach Rick Kranitz after last season because they feared they would lose assistant pitching coach Chris Young, who was promoted. It was not a popular move among the pitching staff at the time. The Phillies have suffered a rash of injuries to the bullpen, but they also have allowed 129 home runs in 77 games, putting them on pace to allow a Major League-record 271 homers.
They allowed 171 last year.
“My view right now is that the wrong thing to do is to point a finger at any one person and say you are the reason this is happening,” Klentak said. “I do not believe in that. I talked to a lot of people. We've had a tough time hitting the baseball. We've had a tough time keeping the ball in the park and we've had a really tough time with the injury bug. It's very difficult for me to say that's on any one person. As a result, what I believe is the best we can do is rally together.”