No Bryce Harper? No problem, as Nationals reach NLCS in first year without one-time face of franchise. | Extra Innings
The Nationals were unable to advance beyond the Division Series in four tries with Bryce Harper. They finally got over the hump in Harper's first year with the Phillies.
Good morning, and welcome to Day 11 of Kapler Watch.
It’s been a week and a half since the regular season ended. The divisional round of the playoffs is nearly complete. After a scintillating Game 5 last night at Dodger Stadium (Howie Kendrick!), the National League Championship Series matchup is set. And still, the Phillies haven’t announced who will be their manager in 2020.
Why the delay? The decision rests with John Middleton, and before he makes it, the Phillies managing partner is seeking opinions from all corners. He has heard from the front office. He has heard from Gabe Kapler himself. He has heard from many players. He undoubtedly has heard from fans.
Eventually, though, the suspense will end. It’s one thing for Middleton to be thorough. If he deliberates much longer, he risks coming off as indecisive. Kapler deserves to know whether a) he will return for the final year of his contract, b) he will receive an extension, or c) he won’t be back at all. So, too, do the 2.7 million fans who came through the Citizens Bank Park turnstiles this year.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but today could finally be the day. Really. Seriously. Stay tuned.
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— Scott Lauber (email@example.com)
No Bryce Harper? No problem, as Nationals reach NLCS without him
Bryce Harper said the right things because, well, when doesn’t he?
It was Sept. 24, a few minutes after the Nationals clinched a wild-card berth and eliminated the Phillies from playoff contention by sweeping a doubleheader in Washington. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. After signing Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract, the Phillies were perceived as the team on the rise — likely at the expense of the Nationals, the franchise that once made Harper its face.
Naturally, then, it wasn’t lost on anybody that the Nats were celebrating while the Phils were brooding.
“I have no hard feelings toward them at all,” Harper said that night. “They’re a great team. They’re a great organization. That’s why they’re at where they are right now. It’s a great group of guys over there. They play the game the right way. They play hard. They have a pitching staff to go with a lineup as well. They’re going to be tough to beat. They’ve got a good team and that’s why they are who they are.”
Surely, though, Harper must have had mixed feelings last night when the Nationals ousted the mighty Dodgers, 7-3, in 10 innings, marking the first time since they moved to D.C. in 2005 that they won a playoff series. While he remains friendly with several ex-teammates, it had to be jarring to see them finally move on after getting knocked out in the divisional round in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Harper pointed to the Nationals’ starting pitching — specifically tri-aces Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin — as the reason for the club’s ability to remain successful. Pitching was the Phillies’ notable weakness, with little dependability beyond ace Aaron Nola.
But the Nationals’ offense was somehow better, too. Harper’s departure created a left-handed power vacuum, but the Nats scored more runs (873) and hit more homers (231) than in any of his seven seasons with the club. That’s probably coincidental. Harper slugged .512 and averaged 26 homers with Washington. In his first season with the Phillies, he slugged .510 and hit 34 homers.
If anything, life without Harper represented an off-field adjustment for the Nationals. Attendance slid to 2.25 million, lower than in any season since Harper made his debut in 2012. Fewer reporters crowded around Harper’s old locker. (Incidentally, that locker is now occupied by Kendrick, the for-a-moment Phillie who belted the grand slam that slayed the Dodgers.) The Nats nevertheless developed a playful verve through the middle of the season that they have carried into October.
And now they are also bracing for an appearance in the National League Championship Series, a place they were never able to reach before.
It’s impossible to notice that it’s happening without Harper.
Need a refresher on where things stand with Gabe Kapler’s future: Here’s the latest from Matt Breen.
Ed Wade knows a little something about waiting to find out your fate. Bob Brookover caught up with the former Phillies general manager.
The Phillies’ top offseason priority will be to remake the pitching staff. They’re expected to make a run at soon-to-be free agent Gerrit Cole, but they can’t stop there.
Don’t miss Frank Fitzpatrick’s profile on Chris Long, one of the Phillies’ behind-the-scenes superstars who retired after 48 seasons with the team as the stage manager of ballpark entertainment.
The legal battle for the rights to the Phillie Phanatic rages on, as Oona Goodin-Smith writes.
Tomorrow: Nationals at Cardinals in Game 1 of NL Championship Series, 8:08 p.m.
Saturday: Yankees vs. Astros or Rays in Game 1 of AL Championship Series, 8:08 p.m.
Oct. 22: World Series begins.
Nov. 11-14: General managers meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Dec. 9-12: Winter meetings in San Diego.
Stat of the day
Last week, we looked closely at the Phillies’ payroll commitments for 2020 in an attempt to determine how much money they will be able to spend in the offseason. Within that piece, we noted that they will face decisions about whether to tender contracts to 15 players who would be eligible for annual raises through salary arbitration.
Over at MLB Trade Rumors, Matt Swartz has developed a formula that projects arbitration salaries with relative accuracy. Here’s what he came up with for the Phillies’ arbitration-eligible players, with their 2019 salaries listed in parentheses:
Cesar Hernandez: $11.8 million ($7.75M); J.T. Realmuto: $10.3 million ($5.9M); Maikel Franco: $6.7 million ($5.2M); Hector Neris: $4.7 million ($1.8M); Blake Parker: $4.7 million ($1.8M); Vince Velasquez: $3.9 million ($2.249M); Jose Alvarez: $3 million ($1.925M); Zach Eflin: $3 million ($590,000); Adam Morgan: $1.6 million ($1.1M); Jerad Eickhoff: $1.5 million ($975,000); Mike Morin: $1.2 million ($700,000); Jose Pirela: $900,000 ($575,000); Andrew Knapp: $800,000 ($565,000); Edubray Ramos: $800,000 ($573,500); Phil Gosselin: $700,000 ($483,000).
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Scott, why do you think Dusty Wathan doesn’t seem to be given any consideration for the managerial position? He certainly has more experience than Kapler and was successful at every minor-league level in the Phillies system. I look forward to your reply as a longstanding Phillies fan (since 1951). Thank you.
— Jim A., via email
Answer: Hi, Jim. Thanks for the note. If the Phillies make a managerial change, I do think Wathan will receive consideration, perhaps even as the top internal candidate. He interviewed for the job two years ago before Kapler got hired, and if I had to guess, the Phillies would want to talk to him again.
Here’s the thing: When a team fires a manager, it’s common to bring in someone either from the outside and/or with a different philosophy from the previous manager. The opposite of Kapler would be a big-name, experienced manager with a track record. That’s why you’re hearing a lot about Joe Girardi, Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon, et cetera.
It’ll be interesting to see if Wathan garners interest for openings around the league. His father, John, played for and managed the Kansas City Royals, who are looking for a successor for Ned Yost. Mike Matheny is reportedly the favorite for that job.