WASHINGTON -- There would be plenty of time, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said last week, to talk about 2020 after the 2019 season was complete.
Well, the 2019 season all but ended on Tuesday afternoon when the Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention and it’s become time for the team to decide if Gabe Kapler will return as manager in 2020.
Kapler entered Tuesday night with a .500 record in his first 318 games leading the Phillies, who will miss the postseason for the eighth straight season and need to win three of their final six games to secure a winning record for the first time since 2011.
Klentak said last week in Atlanta that Kapler was “doing a very good job” but declined to confirm that Kapler would return next season when he was asked. Kapler is under contract for 2020, but it’s fair to wonder how the front office -- especially owner John Middleton -- feels about him returning now that it’s official that the Phillies will not reach October.
“I love this organization. I love this team specifically. I love working for this front office. I love working for this ownership group,” Kapler said. “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 collapsed under Kapler in 2018, bottoming out in September to lose the division title. This season’s demise was less dramatic as the Phillies slowly faded all summer after beginning June with a three-game lead atop the National League East.
“I think that this clubhouse feels a whole lot different. That’s the first and most important thing,” Kapler said when asked to compare 2018 to 2019. “Our guys have continued to pull for each other. They’re having great conversations about strategy. They’re pushing really hard. I do think it feels different for that reason.”
They added four All Stars this offseason, signed Bryce Harper to a $330 million contract, and began the season with playoff expectations. The Phillies faced their challenges, but another season that ends in September is a disappointment. The Phillies, with Middleton leading the charge, fired hitting coach John Mallee in August. It is safe to expect more changes will come after Sunday’s series finale against Miami, but it’s unclear how drastic those changes will be.
“Winning is what matters,” Klentak said last week. “For his job, for my job, for anybody in this game. That’s the cold-hard truth. I know that. We all know that. But not every season is the same as the one that came before it or the one that comes after it. The circumstances change. The player personnel can change. Expectations can change. There are a lot of things that are different year in and year out.”