PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak likes his team’s chances in the postseason, if Philadelphia gets there.
“Particularly in a short series, if we can run out the front of our rotation, I think that’s a good club, and I wouldn’t think there would be many teams that would want to face the Phillies for a [best-of-three] first-round matchup,” Klentak said. “We need to get there, and that’s the focus of this week.”
We will find out over the next week if the Phillies make the expanded eight-team National League postseason. They entered Monday’s series against the Nationals at 27-26, just one game behind the Marlins for second place in the NL East, but only a half-game ahead of the Reds, Brewers and Giants for the first of two Wild Card spots.
The Phils entered the season with high expectations, a franchise-record payroll and a new manager and coaching staff. They have one of the best offenses in baseball, but one of the worst bullpens in Major League history and a rotation that has had its depth compromised with recent injuries to Jake Arrieta and Spencer Howard.
Klentak answered questions about a variety of topics before Monday’s game.
What is a successful season?
Klentak said he is “really proud” of the way the Phillies overcame the COVID-19 issues the first week of the season, as well as how players stepped up following recent injuries to players like J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Arrieta, Howard and more.
"They put themselves in a position this week to control their own destiny and make a push for October," Klentak said.
But there is tremendous pressure on the organization to make the postseason for the first time since 2011, especially in an eight-team field. In fact, not to make the expanded postseason seems unfathomable, even with the recent injuries. Klentak declined to say what he might consider a successful season -- is it playoffs or bust? -- but he cited the numerous adjustments teams have made in this abbreviated 60-game season.
“I do think you need to take that into consideration, but I think we can talk about that after the season,” he said.
Asked if he felt he needed to make the postseason to ensure he returned as GM next year, Klentak said, “I think, right now, our focus is on the next seven games, and if we take care of business in the next seven games, I think then we can start looking forward to what will hopefully be an exciting October. After the season is over, we can look back and go through the postmortem.”
Sixto turns up the heat on J.T.
The Phillies traded highly touted pitching prospect Sixto Sánchez to the Marlins as part of the J.T. Realmuto deal in February 2019. Sánchez looks like a star. He is 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA in six starts with Miami. He dominated the Phils in a seven-inning complete game on Sept. 13. Realmuto will enter free agency this offseason, and there is no guarantee the Phillies will re-sign him.
Does Sánchez's performance put more pressure on the Phillies to answer the “Sign J.T.” calls?
“Look, what I’ve said all along, we would love to have J.T. here, but when you make that trade, you’re trading for two years of control and you know that,” Klentak said. “Sixto looked really good against us. He’s looked good this year. But we’ve had two very productive years of J.T., as well.”
That bullpen, though
The bullpen entered Monday with a 7.15 ERA. Only one bullpen in big league history finished a season with a 6.90 ERA or higher: the 1930 Phillies, who finished with an 8.15 ERA.
But it is a small sample size, right? Well, only four bullpens since 2000 had worse 60-game stretches: the '07 Rays (8.11 ERA from May 23-July 29), the '10 D-backs (7.77 from April 15-June 18), the '07 White Sox (7.77 from May 8-July 13) and the '07 Orioles (7.32 from July 22-Sept. 25). The '19 Orioles had a 7.15 ERA from June 9-Aug. 18.
“It became pretty clear that that was the area that needed to improve for us to get where we wanted to go, and we made a series of adjustments, both in terms of trades and promotions to do that," Klentak said. "And it still has been uneven in September, but I think in the last few days, things have taken a turn for the better. Hopefully that group is trending in the right direction here as we embark on the final week of the year.”
Odubel not in the plans
The Phillies have dealt with injuries to Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley and Kyle Garlick, but they never added Odúbel Herrera to the 60-man player pool. Herrera is being paid $7.35 million (prorated) in 2020 and $10.35 million in '21, plus a $2.5 million buyout on a '22 club option. Herrera was arrested and charged in May 2019 for simple assault of his girlfriend. Charges were dismissed, but Herrera was suspended by MLB for 85 games. The Phillies designated him for assignment in January, then outrighted him to Triple-A.
“There was not a financial reason to do it or not do it,” Klentak said. “It was an organizational decision. We’re limited in the number of players we can carry at the alternate site. It was capped at 60 all year long. We added players in waves; at various times we considered a variety of different names -- Odúbel included. But ultimately, [we] made the decisions that we did.”
Philadelphia leaned on its organizational depth at the beginning of the season, hoping some of its young pitchers would fare well, particularly in the bullpen. It did not happen. Ten players have made their MLB debuts with the Phillies this season. Only the Marlins (18) and Cardinals (13) have had more players debut among NL clubs, and they each had COVID-19 outbreaks that impacted the roster.
“I mean, we wouldn't have promoted players to the big leagues if we didn't think they could handle it,” Klentak said. “We have to look at the alternative. The alternative to a young player coming up to the big leagues was spending another few days at the alternate site, which is its own unique setting. So it's not like they're either losing valuable Triple-A reps or something like that, so we had to factor that in.”