Mack­anin ex­pects im­prove­ment... but where to start?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

PHILADEL­PHIA >> The Phillies were three games shy of hav­ing stum­bled through an­other un­ac­cept­able base­ball sea­son Fri­day when Pete Mack­anin and his coach­ing staff were dragged up­stairs for four hours of con­ver­sa­tion.

“Very frank con­ver­sa­tion,” Mack­anin said. Very. And about time. Not that it is fran­chisedefin­ing for a front of­fice to or­der a staff meet­ing around the fi­nal home­s­tand of a sea­son, but if ever a team needed a sit-down, it was the Phillies. Not only were they about to com­plete their fourth con­sec­u­tive los­ing sea­son, but they had been do­ing it with a flour­ish. They’d just gone 1-6 on a road trip that in­cluded a 17-0 loss to the Mets and an 0-for-3 series against the last-place Braves. Their bullpen had col­lapsed. Their de­fense had turned leaky. They had a closed-door, play­er­sonly meet­ing and lost any­way. They were done. Now what? “We’re plan­ning for next year,” Mack­anin said. “We’re eval­u­at­ing what we had and what we need. I went over ev­ery player in­di­vid­u­ally and talked it over and came up with a plan. Some­what of a plan.”

Not that the se­crets were go­ing to be re­vealed, but there were hints. One was that the coach­ing staff is not go­ing to see Mon­day morn­ing, at least not as it was as­sem­bled this year. An­other is that there will be an­other veteran, or as Mack­anin called it a “pro­fes­sional” bat in­jected into the or­der. Also, it’s pos­si­ble that some play­ers could move po­si­tions to ac­com­mo­date newer play­ers ac­quired in trade.

There were go­ing to be changes in 2017, if only through the nat­u­ral re­build­ing process. The Phillies never pretended their 2016 ros­ter was any­thing but a place­holder for some­thing bet­ter, and that by 2018 they would have a team ca­pa­ble of con­tention. But the Phillies were par­tic­u­larly ex­as­per­at­ing this sea­son, never show­ing pro­longed im­prove­ment af­ter spring­ing to a 16-11 start. And that was de­spite some of them hav­ing ex­cel­lent sea­sons. Freddy Galvis would hit more than 20 home runs. Tommy Joseph, too. Ce­sar Her­nan­dez would be a con­sis­tent on-base threat later in the year. Odubel Her­rera was an All-Star. Jerad Eick­hoff showed a cer­tain tough streak. Hec­tor Neris worked him­self into a la­t­erin­ning value.

Col­lec­tively, though, the Phillies typ­i­cally failed. They ran the bases poorly, made er­rors at the most in­con­ve­nient times and struck out. Of­ten. They struck out 1,349 times head­ing into a game Fri­day against the vis­it­ing New York Mets, sev­enth most in base­ball. Mix in in­juries, youth and an ab­sence of front-of­fice pres­sure to win, and that base­ball out­fit would have been a hand­ful for any man­ager.

“We have too many strike­outs,” Mack­anin said. “Far too many strike­outs. We have to address that is­sue. We need bet­ter on-base per­cent­ages. We need bet­ter plate dis­ci­pline. Those are ar­eas of con­cern for us and we cer­tainly have to im­prove in that area. But where we do that on the field? Which play­ers? That’s the im­por­tant fac­tor. We have to pin­point which guys we may trade or may keep. We may try to add to a cer­tain po­si­tion and add to an­other po­si­tion. Where we do that is what it’s all about. And by do­ing that, we have to find the best fit from who’s avail­able out there.”

Emerg­ing from that meet­ing, Mack­anin talked about a deeper bullpen and about a more ac­com­plished col­lec­tion of ma­jor-league hit­ters.

“I would like to get a good, solid, proven hit­ter some­where on the field,” he said. “Where that is right now will be de­ter­mined by who is avail­able and what kind of a deal, if any, they could make. And if not, we’ll try to find some­thing from within that we think can help us. Or some­body could make a great im­pres­sion in the spring. There’s so many ways to do that. There might be some­body we never even thought of at this point that might en­ter the pic­ture and give us a boost.

“I’d like to lengthen out the lineup and get a pro­fes­sional in there,” he added, “to take some heat off of the other guys.”

Think­ing out loud, Mack­anin used mov­ing Maikel Franco to first base as an ex­am­ple of the pieces-in­mo­tion ap­proach to chang­ing the look of the ros­ter if, for ex­am­ple, a third base­man would come avail­able in trade.

Andy MacPhail has been around about a year and Matt Klen­tak has been the gen­eral man­ager for about 11 months. They were handed a weak team and a man­date to show im­prove­ment. So it is their time to leave the on-deck cir­cle and start to hack.

“I’m not go­ing to sit here and tell you we’re go­ing to win the di­vi­sion next year,” Mack­anin said. “Hope­fully we will. You never know, with one or two more ad­di­tions, how much they’ll help. But we cer­tainly want to get bet­ter. I, for one, want to win more games. It’s more fun to win. It’s more fun for the fans and ev­ery­body. But there’s noth­ing set in stone. We just have to wait and see.”

The changes will be­gin with the coach­ing staff, with Mack­anin promis­ing more in­for­ma­tion be­fore the end of the week­end. From there, if he watched what ev­ery­one else watched this sum­mer, Klen­tak will go through the club­house with a power-washer and start re­mov­ing the de­bris.

“Yeah, I ex­pect us to be bet­ter next year,” Mack­anin said. “That’s the best way I can put it.”

That’s what 159 games sug­gested. That’s what an­other four hours screamed.

To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @ Jack­McCaf­fery

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Phillies gen­eral man­ager Matt Klen­tak, left, and man­ager Pete Mack­anin were part of a brain trust that con­vened Fri­day to dis­cuss the di­rec­tion the team will take be­fore head­ing south for spring train­ing in 2017.

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