PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies played good enough baseball the first four months of the season to take first place in the National League East and convince the front office to make upgrades before and after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
But then they faded.
Did they play poorly down the stretch? Or did they return to reality, exposing holes and needs for upgrades in the offseason? The answer could be somewhere in the middle. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak addressed those and other issues Sunday. The Phillies entered the day mathematically alive for the postseason, 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves in the NL East with 15 games to play and 4 1/2 games behind the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card.
From Gabe Kapler on up, the Phillies are doing things differently than the past. If there is a "Phillies Way," how would you define what that should be?
"When I was brought in here three years ago I wasn't brought in here to do things the way they'd always been done. You guys remember that there was a narrative surrounding the Phillies that they were slow to adjust. So, that is our job, to move the needle, to stay current and win baseball games. And I -- Kap's decisions, our in-game decisions, are on display every night. I recognize that they are scrutinized a lot, but we're not doing things so radically different that this has never been seen in baseball before or that other teams aren't doing similar things. It's new to Philadelphia. I get that.
"I know that it's not always going to be popular, and I know it's not always going work, but that doesn't mean the process is flawed and coming up with new ideas -- candidly, this was an excellent season to try new things with a young roster and with relatively modest expectations and we did. Some of them worked and we'll continue to use them, some of them didn't and we won't use them anymore. But we'll continue pressing forward because that is our job."
Did the trades before and after July 31 adversely affect roster chemistry?
"That's a very valid question. We have spent the last three or four weeks examining just about everything. We come up with a theory, we test it, we try to reach some sort of conclusion. What happened in the month of August that we stopped winning baseball games? That being one of them. We test a lot of things. The best answer I can give you is whatever it is that caused us to go into a team-wide slump in August is not limited to one factor. It's not one thing. And if it was, we would have hopefully identified it and made that adjustment. We have theories about different things that may have contributed. It's probably some kind of combination of a lot of things. I will not sit here and tell you the chemistry changed in such a way that that is the reason we struggled. I don't believe that."
Is one theory that you simply overachieved?
"We've looked into that, too. And candidly, we thought about that as we were making Trade Deadline decisions in July. How aggressive should we be? Is this real? And the reality was we were getting great starting pitching, a very solid and deep bullpen, and we were in first place. And how can we not go for it? How can we not make moves? We felt really bullish about that decision to add Wilson Ramos, Asdrubal Cabrera, Aaron Loup, and to double-down on that in the month of August with three more additions."
Where is this team talent-wise on the 25-man roster?
"I think we're still developing in that department. Look, we're in the latter half of September and we're still playing meaningful baseball games. Through the rebuild we've now gotten ourselves to a point where we're relevant again. We were in first place for a good portion of the year. We're playing games on national television again. People are talking about the Phillies. We have marketable players. There's a lot of good that's come … rosters will continue to evolve. We will continue to get better, whether that's through players in our system, the development of guys who are on this field already, trades that we might make in the future, free agents that we might bring in the future, just general happenings in baseball operations. The roster will continue to evolve and get more talented as we go. Right now we're in a position where our roster is talented enough to play meaningful games in September, and that's an important first step to where we were a year ago."
The organization let go four Minor League hitting coaches. Why?
"Sometimes when you have change at the top (former player development director Joe Jordan and Klentak met and agreed to part ways) there are some other changes that follow. That's really the root of this. There are some things offensively in the Minor Leagues that we'd like to change moving forward. I'm not going to sit here and say bad things about the guys we let go. I like those guys. As much as anything, it is tied to Joe."
Is it about teaching style?
"I think broadly, it's important at any level of instruction to stay current with what's happening and with the developments in baseball. That's true at this level, it's true in the Minor Leagues, it's true with youth baseball. I'm not going to sit here and say that our group was or wasn't doing certain things because it's not that simple or it's not isolated to just that. But I do think broadly speaking in player development, we do want to create an environment of open-mindness and forward thinking."