A few days ago, my colleague Bob Brookover wrote that Phillies owner John Middleton should seek the opinions of several prominent players before deciding whether to retain manager Gabe Kapler.
Just the same, Middleton shouldn’t miss a moment of the final 13 games.
Need a reason to keep watching with the Phillies’ playoff odds down to less than 1 percent? Try this: A 5-8 finish will give them a winning record for the first time since 2011, which might be perceived by ownership as a significant enough achievement to forestall major changes. Suffice it to say, then, the effort level of the players could serve as a referendum on Kapler’s future.
“Sometimes you see the best come out in people when their backs are against the wall. Ours are against the wall,” Kapler said the other day. “My expectations is that you’ll see our best.”
A 5-4 victory over the Braves last night in the series opener in Atlanta was a positive start.
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— Scott Lauber (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Andy MacPhail makes a point of speaking to the media only three times a year: at the beginning of spring training, midseason, and after the final game.
Yet the team president’s words in July set a tone for the rest of the Phillies season.
MacPhail last met with reporters on July 12, before the first game after the All-Star break. The Phillies hadn’t set baseball ablaze with their play in the previous four weeks. They were only 10-16 from June 9 to July 7, including a season-long seven-game losing streak, and had gone from leading the division by one game to trailing the Braves by 6 1/2. Injuries were mounting, too.
But the Phillies also weren’t a lost cause. They held the National League’s final playoff spot by a half-game over the Brewers. There was MacPhail, though, reasoning that the wild card wasn’t a big enough prize to warrant a bold move at the trade deadline, even though the Phillies hadn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2011.
And about that mission, set forth by MacPhail himself, to rebuild faster than any other team?
“Our goal as a franchise — and I’ll just spread it out for you, just give it to you — we wanted to have the quickest turnaround from a rebuild under a new regime to the postseason. That’s four years,” MacPhail said that day. “If the season ended today, we would’ve had our goal. We would be in the postseason in our fourth year. If we don’t, we don’t.”
If we don’t, we don’t.
At the time, I wondered if MacPhail’s laissez-faire attitude would mirror when Pat Gillick traded Bobby Abreu in 2006 and said the Phillies wouldn’t contend for two years, a timetable that the players rejected when they nearly captured the wild card in the final week of that season. Instead, it became a losing keynote, derided by the media and cited by fans as the moment that MacPhail lost them.
It wasn’t exactly a rallying cry in the clubhouse, either. Two days earlier, at the All-Star Game, catcher J.T. Realmuto said he “would be shocked if our front office didn’t believe we could make a run.” But MacPhail’s comments didn’t inspire confidence. And maybe it isn’t a coincidence that the Phillies are 30-29 in the second half and have all but dropped out of the wild-card race with two weeks to play.
A few weeks ago, Bryce Harper told me this about the value of the wild card: “You’ve just got to get in there. We’ve seen teams in years past, whether it’s the Royals or the Giants [in 2014] or the Marlins [in 1997 and 2003], just being able to get in there, anything can happen.”
If only MacPhail’s front office had felt the same way.
Dallas Keuchel popped off last week about the Phillies front office “second-guessing” itself over not signing him. Last night, the Phillies teed off on Keuchel for five runs in the fourth inning.
So, it turns out that Corey Dickerson’s foot is broken after all, as Matt Breen writes. The left fielder will miss the rest of the season. He will be a free agent and likely seek an everyday job. Difficult to see that coming with the Phillies, who will get Andrew McCutchen back next year.
It’s clear by his continued absence from the lineup that Nick Williams’ time with the Phillies is running out.
Tonight: Zach Eflin starts in Atlanta vs. right-hander Julio Teheran, 7:20 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola vs. Mike Soroka in Phillies-Braves finale, 12:10 p.m.
Friday: Drew Smyly starts the series opener in Cleveland, 7:10 p.m.
Also Friday: Spencer Howard will make his debut ... in the Arizona Fall League.
Sunday: Phillies vs. Indians on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, 6:37 p.m.
Aaron Nola has pitched 191 2/3 innings this season, the third-highest total in the National League entering play Tuesday night. If he gets to 200 innings — and he is scheduled to make three more starts — he will be the first Phillies pitcher to reach that mark in back-to-back seasons since Cole Hamels did it five years in a row from 2010-14.
Nola also would be only the eighth Phillies pitcher to record at least 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in back-to-back seasons, joining Hamels (2012-13), Cliff Lee (2011-13), Roy Halladay (2010-11), Curt Schilling (1997-98), Steve Carlton (1982-83, 1979-80, 1972-74), Jim Bunning (1964-67) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (1914-15).
It’s little wonder that Red Sox manager Alex Cora paid Nola the ultimate compliment last weekend.
“With all due respect to all the pitchers we’ve faced, he’s been the best one,” said Cora, whose team faces Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber and Blake Snell annually in the American League. “Love the way he competes. Love his stuff. He doesn’t panic. With the offense we have, he still dominates us. They have a good one. He’s a special one.”
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Answer: Thanks, Keith, for the question. I’m sure that team officials will cite injuries for why the Phillies didn’t make the playoffs, and there’s surely a kernel of truth in that. If someone said in spring training that they would lose McCutchen, Jake Arrieta, Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan, it would’ve been difficult to imagine them surviving.
That said, a spate of injuries isn’t insurmountable. Look at the Yankees, who will win 100-plus games despite missing Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez for long stretches.