Plenty of rea­sons for late slide

Phillies have stum­bled badly down the stretch over last 2 sea­sons

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tom Housenick

So, the Phillies are play­off spec­ta­tors again af­ter an­other dread­ful Septem­ber.

It was ex­pected in 2018, but this sea­son was sup­posed to be dif­fer­ent. In­stead, it played out like a Ground­hog’s Day se­quel … mi­nus Bill Mur­ray’s comedic ge­nius.

Philadel­phia was 20-36 the last two Septem­bers. That .357 win­ning per­cent­age is bet­ter only than the Ori­oles, Giants, Tigers and Mar­lins — who col­lec­tively were out of play­off con­tention as soon as spring train­ing ended. They also failed to win five games in a row at any point for the first time since 1990. The Gabe Kapler/ Matt Klen­tak part­ner­ship was sup­posed to en­sure that this sea­son not only was the Phillies’ first win­ning sea­son since 2011, but also their first play­off ap­pear­ance in eight years.

In­stead, the club that spent $473 mil­lion in the off­sea­son on four play­ers fin­ished in fourth place in the Na­tional League East Di­vi­sion and never se­ri­ously threat­ened the sec­ond wild-card spot af­ter a 2-4 mid-Septem­ber road trip to Atlanta and Bos­ton.

What went wrong? The only sim­ple an­swer is: plenty.

Here’s a look at seven con­tribut­ing fac­tors:

Andrew McCutchen’s fluke ACL in­jury: His sea­son-end­ing in­jury in the first in­ning of a June 3 loss in San Diego was pain felt by the Phillies the rest of the sea­son. Up to that point, the 32-year-old free-agent signee had an .834 OPS in 60 games which com­ple­mented his stel­lar club­house pres­ence. With­out him in the lineup, the Phils never found an­other lead­off hit­ter and never found of­fen­sive con­sis­tency.

Rhys Hoskins’ sec­ond-half woes: In 2018, his first full MLB sea­son, the first base­man hit .237 with 59 hits and 57 strike­outs in 67 games af­ter the All-Star break. It got much worse in 2019: .180 av­er­age, .679 OPS, 79 strike­outs, 48 walks and 46 hits in 71 games. That pro­duc­tion void hit­ting be­hind Bryce Harper in the lineup was a ma­jor part of the of­fense’s in­con­sis­tency. What made it par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing was that dur­ing his big­gest hot streaks in the up­per lev­els of the mi­nors and in his first month in the ma­jors (Au­gust 2017), he was pep­per­ing right-cen­ter field. His pull-happy mode was ob­vi­ous late in 2019.

Rav­aged bullpen: David Robert­son, Tommy Hunter, Ser­an­thony Dominguez, Adam Mor­gan, Pat Neshek and Vic­tor Arano were six in­te­gral parts of the Phillies re­lief corps. Hunter pitched 5 1⁄3 in­nings this year, or ex­actly four in­nings more than util­ity player Sean Ro­driguez and two in­nings more than of­ten-in­jured out­fielder Ro­man Quinn.

The six re­liev­ers pitched a com­bined 89 in­nings (in 102 ap­pear­ances), which left the likes of Nick Vin­cent, Jared Hughes, Blake Parker, Mike Morin and Fer­nando Salas — none of whom were with the Phillies out of spring train­ing — throw­ing more in­nings (92 2⁄3).

Jerad Eick­hoff again was hurt more than he wasn’t and the Phillies mis­tak­enly tried to make yo-yo re­liev­ers out of Triple-A starters Cole Irvin and Enyel De Los San­tos.

Dal­las Keuchel … NOT: The Phillies never made the left-handed free agent an of­fer, so he sat with­out a job un­til June 21. All he did was pitch at least six in­nings in 12 of his last 17 starts… for the ri­val Braves. The lack of in­ter­est is a mi­cro­cosm of Klen­tak’s flawed off­sea­son ap­proach to start­ing pitch­ers. He earned credit for ac­quir­ing J.T. Real­muto, the game’s best all-around catcher and a solid leader. He also signed McCutchen.

But the Phils GM took called third strikes on Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Char­lie Mor­ton, Lance Lynn and even Ani­bal Sanchez. Only Lynn isn’t pitch­ing in the play­offs, but it wasn’t his fault. The right-han­der had 246 strike­outs in 208 1⁄3 in­nings and worked at least six in­nings in 25 of 33 starts, in­clud­ing 19 in a row. By com­par­i­son, Nick Pivetta and Vince Ve­lasquez com­bined for just five starts of at least six in­nings in 36 at­tempts.

Bench mis­con­struc­tion again: Scott Kingery, Nick Wil­liams and Aaron Altherrr joined Andrew Knapp to form an un­pro­duc­tive bench out of spring train­ing. They com­bined to hit .154 (14 for 91) as pinch hit­ters.

Pinch hit­ting is hard, es­pe­cially if you’re a young player who has not done it much. For the sec­ond year in a row, the Phillies put the bur­den on rel­a­tive new­com­ers who pre­dictably strug­gled.

Sean Ro­driguez, a 10-year veteran, was called up in April and stayed the rest of the sea­son. Phil Gos­selin got two stints and led the team in pinch hits. Shane Robin­son, Andrew Romine and other veter­ans who started the year in Triple-A never got a call-up.

Club­house au­thor­ity: Kapler has never hid the fact that he was a play­ers’ man­ager, but he took it to ex­tremes in his two sea­sons. Mi­nus play­ing videos dur­ing games, the play­ers were never reigned in. Jean Se­gura’s lack of hus­tle af­ter slip­ping in the bat­ter’s box on his pop-up al­lowed Padres sec­ond base­man Ian Kinsler to let the ball drop and get a dou­ble play … and land McCutchen on the in­jured list. It wasn’t Se­gura’s only hus­tle trans­gres­sion, but there was never a hard stance from the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Ce­sar Her­nan­dez is an­other who had mo­ments of lethargy on the field and on the base paths. It is tol­er­ated. It should not be. Real­muto and Harper are lead­ers by ex­am­ple. They are not go­ing to call out lazy team­mates pub­licly or pri­vately, so that falls di­rectly on the man­ager.

Kapler also made it clear when Pivetta was sent to Triple-A Le­high Val­ley that the right-han­der needed to work on his at­ti­tude and first-in­ning trou­bles. He did nei­ther, yet was pro­moted af­ter six mi­nor-league starts when the Phillies were feel­ing some­what des­per­ate for pitch­ing in May. Pivetta was moved to the bullpen in late July and sent back to Triple-A for three re­lief out­ings in Au­gust be­fore spend­ing the rest of the year in the ma­jors. The club tol­er­ated be­hav­ior from a guy who has a 5.34 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in parts of three ma­jor-league sea­son.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sues: With the ex­cep­tion of a re­lief pitcher (Hec­tor Neris twice) not be­ing ready to en­ter a game yet be­ing sum­moned by Kapler, the Phillies had a plan of ac­cel­er­at­ing the us­age of an­a­lyt­ics into ev­ery­thing they did on the field in an ef­fort to catch up to the elite or­ga­ni­za­tions (Yankees, Astros, Dodgers). They hired non­base­ball peo­ple from Driv­e­line Base­ball and other data-driven com­pa­nies in or­der to ex­pe­dite the process. They pro­duced chart af­ter chart. They shared them with the play­ers, told them what to do. But there was one prob­lem: they strug­gled to help the play­ers make changes nec­es­sary to achieve the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­a­lytic goals.

Fired pitch­ing coach Rick Kranitz ex­celled with his re­la­tion­ship skills, but the Phillies opted to pro­mote Chris Young whose his­tory was in scout­ing. Kranitz is in the play­offs with the Braves. Young failed to help younger pitch­ers de­velop. Zach Eflin’s re­cent de­ci­sion to balk at what Young and his charts were telling him and re­turn to be the sinker­ball pitcher that al­lowed him to get to the ma­jors paid off. In his last seven starts, Eflin posted a 2.89 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .239 bat­ting av­er­age against.

As­sis­tant pitch­ing coach Dave Lundquist has a solid re­la­tion­ship with Eflin and many of the other Phillies/IronPigs young pitch­ers. His track record in the mi­nors of com­bin­ing the abil­ity to help with me­chan­ics and reach pitch­ers on a per­sonal level speaks for it­self. Yet, his voice is not the one be­ing heard most right now.

The Phillies took a cal­cu­lated risk last sum­mer in an ef­fort to look smart with a business de­ci­sion that in­volved send­ing Eflin to the mi­nors — though he never re­ported and never missed a start.

It irked Eflin, who is among the nicest hu­man be­ings in the Phils club­house. It up­set the rest of the ros­ter.

Kapler met with Eflin to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion, but it came af­ter the poor de­ci­sion on a per­sonal level was made.

Phillies man­age­ment does not ap­pear to have learned from that episode about the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate and the im­por­tance of the tim­ing of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

It all could cost Kapler and/or oth­ers their jobs. Stay tuned.


Andrew McCutchen was off to a solid start in his first sea­son with the Phillies be­fore a torn ACL took him out of the lineup for good on June 3.

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