Matt Klentak saw what you saw.
His No. 1 pitcher had allowed a total of four earned runs in 13 1/3 innings in his last two starts. The Phillies lost both games. That included the first of a three-game series against the Mets, who had lost six straight before winning in Philadelphia on Friday night against Aaron Nola and Saturday night, after the Cubs, whom they trailed by three games in the National League wild-card race, had already lost their game.
In March, when the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a record deal, he said he wanted to be “On Broad Street.” By Sunday evening, in his suite on One Citizens Bank Way, the Phillies’ general manager was ready to face reality.
“It’s going to take a really impressive September run for us to overcome the Cubs and/or Washington (who led the Phillies in the wild-card race by 7 1/2 games). And we know that," Klentak said. “What I like about this year’s team is that it’s a team that’s built to compete this year, but it’s also a team that’s built to compete in future years.”
Maybe next year, kids.
That wasn’t the tone when Harper got his 13-year, $330 million contract. At that point, owner John Middleton, Harper and veteran starter Jake Arietta agreed that the Phillies should be a favorite to win the NL pennant. Have the expectations changed?
“Honestly, you almost always have to do that,” Klentak said.
That isn’t exactly a white flag. But it ain’t green, either.
At least it’s honest, and that’s something.
From a brain trust that, from president to manager, so often seems to obfuscate, it was refreshing to hear a frank assessment: The playoffs this season might be a stretch, but this was never about 2019 alone.
“We’ve talked for years about opening a window that extends for a longer period of time, not just a spike for a single year and then restart or rebuild. That has never been the goal,” Klentak said. “The goal has been to be competitive for a long stretch.”
Klentak was aware that 28 games remained, and stressed that he still considers this Phillies edition a viable postseason contender.
“What I’m excited about ... is that we’re three games out on the first of September, and we have a chance,” said Klentak, who revisited his comments 18 days ago, when he announced the desperate hiring of Charlie Manuel -- the winningest manager in franchise history -- as hitting coach. "People were writing us off."
Then, he noted, “We were two games out at that point, we’re three games out (now).”
Math can be cruel.
Is it appropriate for the GM to paint such a dim picture of the present in his effort to spotlight the future? Of course it is. It is in Philly, where ownership, management and the men in the manager’s office have for so long misrepresented the franchise’s failures and incompetences; where the voices from Citizens Bank Park have, since 2012, so often misled the citizens.
Klentak on Sunday pledged to muster every resource to give the Phillies the best chance to make a run this September, but he admitted that the definition for success in 2019 has changed. His rotation lacks No. 2 starter Jake Arietta, who is injured, and promising No. 3 starter Nick Pivetta, who seems unsalvageable. The other young guns have their own issues: Vince Velasquez can’t pitch deep, and Zach Eflin feels an inexplicable heaviness, which, before sports science overtook the lexicon, was called “fatigue.”
Seven of the eight featured relievers entering spring training are injured. That the Phillies entered Sunday night four games over .500 and remotely relevant to the playoff conversation was a testament to resilience, a few solid in-season acquisitions, and, frankly, luck.
They traded next to nothing for for Jay Bruce the day before Andrew McCutchen shredded his knee. The Pirates gave them Corey Dickerson at the deadline for a box of used Kleenex. Jason Vargas and Drew Smyly, deemed useless to the Mets and Rangers, respectively, have given the Phillies chances to win in a combined six starts since July 21.
But Vargas and Smyly lately have regressed toward the mean, Manuel’s magic was short-lived, and the Phillies find themselves exactly where injury and incompetence leaves most talented teams: Hopeful for a September miracle.