And then there were four. Hard to believe, Harry, but the sprint to the World Series is already down to four teams. The Los Angeles Dodgers' road to a second consecutive National League pennant runs through the Milwaukee Brewers. Over in the American League, the Houston Astros must knock off the 108-win Boston Red Sox to maintain their chance of becoming the first repeat World Series champion since the dynastic New York Yankees won three titles in a row from 1998 to 2000.
For the Phillies, the postseason only reinforces that they are not real contenders yet.
The Atlanta Braves lived the Phillies' fantasy by winning the NL East with a young, mostly inexperienced roster. But the playoffs were a rude awakening. The Braves got shut out at Dodger Stadium in each of the first two games of a best-of-five division series that highlighted the gap between an upstart team and an elite one. They won at home in Game 3 but bowed out in Game 4 after being outscored, 20-8, in the series.
At least the Braves got there, though. And unless the Phillies make considerable gains in the offseason, Atlanta will remain better positioned to return next season.
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Payroll check: How much can the Phillies really spend?
Over the past few months, there has been speculation, even among officials from rival teams, that the Phillies have the payroll flexibility to make a run at signing both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the marquee free agents in the coming market.
Hogwash, according to team president Andy MacPhail.
"Someone just didn't put a paper and pencil together and do the math," MacPhail said last week.
OK, then. Let's do the math.
The Phillies have commitments to six players for 2019: Jake Arrieta ($25 million), Carlos Santana ($20.3 million), Tommy Hunter ($9 million), Pat Neshek ($7.75 million), Odubel Herrera ($5.35 million), and Scott Kingery ($1.5 million). That's a total of nearly $69 million on the books.
MacPhail said he expects that the Phillies will eventually hike the payroll back to where it was before the rebuild began. From 2010-14, their opening-day payroll ranked among the top five in baseball, topping out at $178 million in 2014. It's unlikely to return to that level by next season, but if the Phillies spent, say, $150 million on players in 2019, it would mean they have about $80 million to play with this winter.
Some of that money will go toward re-signing as many as a dozen arbitration-eligible players, including Aaron Nola, Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. Even then, based on projections at the indispensable MLB Trade Rumors, the combined salaries of those 12 players figure to be only about $37.3 million. And it's doubtful that the Phillies will bring back all of them. Hernandez and Franco, in particular, could be traded, and they're pegged to make $8.9 million and $5.1 million, respectively.
The rest of the roster, including Rhys Hoskins and Seranthony Dominguez, is not yet eligible for salary arbitration and can expect to make between $500,000 and $800,000 apiece.
Clearly, then, the Phillies will be flush with cash this winter. It might not be enough for a daily double of Harper and Machado, both of whom are looking to eclipse Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million contract. But there should be plenty of money on hand to sign one of the megastars and have enough left for a starting pitcher (Patrick Corbin? Dallas Keuchel? J.A. Happ?) or a second-tier hitter, assuming owner John Middleton is as ready to spend it as everybody seems to think.
Now that the season is over, Scott Kingery can acknowledge it: He was utterly lost at the plate. "I feel like I've never picked up a bat before," he said after the Phillies' final game. "There's days that felt like that."
Gabe Kapler wanted feedback so badly that he asked his coaches to take anonymous surveys. In a related story, someone named Anon E. Moss hijacked Bob Brookover's column last weekend and offered advice to Kapler. Mr. Moss' thoughts are not to be missed.
Five years ago, the Cleveland Indians tried to turn Carlos Santana into a third baseman. It didn't go particularly well. With the Phillies mulling a similar move for Santana, I recently spoke to longtime Indians infield coach Mike Sarbaugh, who explained why he thinks it might work out this time around.
Matt Stairs won't return as the San Diego Padres' hitting coach. It marks the second year in a row that the former Phillies pinch-hitter extraordinaire was fired. Stairs was let go after the 2017 season when the Phillies dismissed manager Pete Mackanin.
Tomorrow: NLCS between Dodgers and Brewers opens in Milwaukee, 8:09 p.m.
Saturday: ALCS between Astros and Red Sox opens in Boston, 8:09 p.m.
Oct. 23: World Series begins.
Five days after World Series ends: Free-agent market opens.
Nov. 6-8: General managers' meetings in Carlsbad, Calif.
Stat of the day
Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of one of the most memorable home runs in Phillies history. On Oct. 13, 2008, Matt Stairs belted a pinch-hit, two-run homer off Jonathan Broxton to lift the Phillies to a 7-5 win in Game 4 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium.
There have been only 27 pinch-hit homers in League Championship Series play since the playoffs were expanded in 1969. And there haven't been any since Andre Ethier (Dodgers) and Miguel Montero (Cubs) went deep in Game 1 of the NLCS on Oct. 15, 2016.
From the mailbag
Question: Now that the death march is finally over, don't you think the Phils would be better off looking for a starting pitcher before going after Manny or Bryce? If so, why not put Vince [Velasquez] in the bullpen, as he only seems to be good for two or three innings? Also, I would give Dylan [Cozens] a full shot at left field along with Nick [Williams] to start the season and see what happens. — Ron P., via e-mail
Answer: Thanks, Ron, for the question. Put me firmly in the camp that believes the Phillies need to add a starter, either via free agency or a trade. General manager Matt Klentak prefers to avoid the starting-pitching market, but I don't see how the Phillies can go into next season with the same rotation and call themselves contenders.
That said, offense has to be the No. 1 priority this winter. Period. End of story. And unless the Los Angeles Angels suddenly do an about-face and decide to trade Mike Trout, the best available hitters will be Harper and Machado. The Phillies need to move heaven and earth to get one of them. Anything less and the offseason will be considered a failure.