Phillies' postseason hopes end in loss to Nats

Following disappointing 2019, Kapler anticipates 'plenty of opportunity to reflect'

September 24th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Nobody knows what happens next, but everybody expects there will be changes.

How big or small remains to be seen.

The Phillies lost Tuesday afternoon to the Nationals, 4-1, in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Nationals Park. The loss officially eliminated Philadelphia from the second National League Wild Card with six games to play, although the club’s postseason hopes had been on life support for weeks. The Phils entered the month with a 2.5 percent chance to make the postseason, according to FanGraphs. They had a 66.7 percent chance on May 29, when they were 33-22. It has been a slow and steady fall for the Phillies, who are one of only three NL teams not to make the playoffs since 2011.

The Phillies need to win three of their remaining six games to finish with a winning record for the first time in eight years.

“[I’ve] felt some sting already,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.

Kapler’s future with the Phillies seems tenuous. General manager Matt Klentak declined last week to say if Kapler will be his manager in 2020, saying that he would not discuss next season until the team played its final game this year. He could have said yes, but the decision might not be his alone to make. Managing partner John Middleton is in Washington this week, along with the rest of the Phillies’ brain trust. He spearheaded the Bryce Harper contract and ordered the front office to dismiss hitting coach John Mallee in August. First-year pitching coach Chris Young’s job status had been discussed at the time, too. He remained.

“There’s going to be plenty of opportunity to reflect,” Kapler said, when asked about his job status. “I love this organization. I love this team, specifically. I love working for this front office. I love working for this ownership group. And look, I’m going to manage this club as long as I can, because I think I give us a great chance to win and I think because I care deeply about the success of this franchise.”

The Phillies opened 2019 expecting to be much better than this. They signed Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. They acquired J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Jóse Álvarez and Juan Nicasio in trades. They had spent nearly $600 million on free agents the past two years. At the very least, it felt like they should have been in the thick of a postseason race until the final weekend of the season, even with a rash of injuries that hit the bullpen hard, a season-ending knee injury to McCutchen and a season-ending suspension to Odúbel Herrera.

The Phillies’ front office grappled with the shortcomings on its roster. It overestimated its rotation, based on the promise it showed under former pitching coach Rick Kranitz. It chose to move forward with Maikel Franco at the hot corner, despite doubts that he could be an effective everyday third baseman. Because of those flaws and injuries, it decided to act conservatively before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

The front office had its reasons. The Phillies figured that if they cannot win a World Series this season, it made sense to hold onto their most valuable assets when they have a better shot in the future. Of course, it could cost people their jobs.

It might depend how Middleton feels about everything, including how this team has finished the past two seasons. The Phillies were 64-49 with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the NL East on Aug. 7 last season. They finished 16-33, and they were eliminated from the postseason in Game 155 last season. Philly was eliminated in Game 156 this season.

The Nationals retired the final 18 batters they faced in Game 1. The Phillies have been outscored 21-4 in their past three games. Is Kapler seeing enough effort from his players down the stretch?

“Oh, yeah,” Kapler said. “And sometimes it’s a little bit too much fight. Sometimes it’s a little bit too much … there’s a lot of pressure. Our guys want to perform so badly. And I appreciate and respect that about them. And sometimes they put a little additional pressure on themselves. I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.”