Last night, the Phillies lost in extra innings to the White Sox, in a game that saw Roman Quinn, a natural outfielder, pitch and Vince Velasquez, a pitcher, play left field. The loss dropped the Phillies back into third place in the NL East and placed them on the outside looking in for the playoffs. For a team that once looked promising, things have quickly gone south in Philly. How did we get to this point and who’s to blame for these struggles? Let’s take a closer look.
How Did We Get Here?
When the Phillies signed Bryce Harper, it became clear to the fanbase that the team was in win-now mode. The Phillies had already traded for both JT Realmuto and Jean Segura to go along with their signings of former All-Stars David Robertson and Andrew McCutchen. This plethora of acquisitions had the hopes of fans higher than they had been in years. The fanbase was officially rejuvenated and ready to cheer for a winner. For the first few months of the season, the team did just that. The Phillies were at the top of the NL East and the fans just couldn’t get enough of the winning. Then, all of a sudden, everything started to spin out of control.
On June 3rd, the Phils lost Andrew McCutchen to a torn ACL. Soon thereafter, the Phillies started to falter. They eventually fell out of first place on June 12th and haven’t been able to recover. As the Phillies continued to lose games, the fanbase continued to lose faith in the team. That brings us back to the current situation. After last night’s loss the team sits a game out of a wild card spot. The continuous disappointments of this team have caused fans to begin to point fingers and place blame on a variety of people and areas within the organization. So who’s really to blame for this disastrous situation?
Heading into the season, the offense looked like it would be one of the best in baseball. Adding Realmuto, Segura, Harper, and McCutchen to go along with guys like Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery seemed like a potentially unstoppable force. However, that has simply not been the case. From non-Phillies fans, the blame goes directly on Bryce Harper. While Harper has definitely struggled this season, he does not deserve all of the blame for the team’s offensive struggles. Harper currently leads the team in RBIs with 72 and has one of the best averages in baseball with runners in scoring position. These statistics are important because this is an area in which the Phillies’ offense severely struggles. According to TeamRankings, this season, the Phillies average 3.80 runners left in scoring position per game, which is the most in all of baseball. Their inability to drive in runners has been one of their main pitfalls this year and is one of the key reasons as to why they have struggled so much to this point.
One of the main questions coming into the season for the Phillies was their starting pitching. Last offseason, they failed to make any upgrades to their rotation. Instead, they chose to bank on guys such as Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin developing into dependable starters. Initially, the rotation looked promising, especially Eflin, who pitched two complete games in the beginning of the season. However, once June hit, the rotation started to show its weaknesses. The struggles became so bad that it seemed as though Aaron Nola was the only reliable starter on the team. The rotation has seen a slight improvement recently as a result of the additions of Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas, who have both been solid in their three combined starts thus far. Despite this slight improvement, the starting rotation still remains one of the larger weaknesses of this team and deserves a fair share of the blame.
Every year the Phillies’ bullpen seems to be a weakness of the team. This season has been no different. Much like the starting rotation, the bullpen had a solid first two months of the season, including an ERA under 4.00 in the month of May. However, June was a disaster for the bullpen as they had an ERA of 6.62! Giving up that many runs will never bode well for a team and definitely has had a major impact on the team’s lack of recent success. Injuries have definitely played a part in the bullpen’s struggles, but that should not exempt them from receiving a large chunk of the blame for the Phillies’ fall in the standings.
All season long Gabe Kapler has received a ton of criticism from the Phillies fanbase. These criticisms have only grown as the team has started to fall in the standings. Over the course of the season, it’s become increasingly clear that Kapler has struggled to manage this team. His in-game decision making has been put into question on multiple occasions. One of the most questionable decisions was in last night’s game when he seemingly waved the white flag by putting Roman Quinn, a position player, in to pitch. When a team is in the middle of a playoff race, it makes no sense for them to just throw a game away like the Phillies did last night. Mistakes like that are just inexcusable. Kapler can make excuses for his team all he wants in his postgame press conferences. However, there is no excuse for how he has managed this team in recent weeks. Although he doesn’t deserve all of the blame for the team’s recent poor performance, Gabe Kapler definitely deserves a lot of it.
The Front Office
Despite the opinions of some fans, the front office deserves very little blame for the team’s current situation. Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail were the ones that put this team in a position to even have a chance at making the playoffs this season. They were the ones that went out and brought in All-Star caliber players such as JT Realmuto and Bryce Harper. They definitely deserve more praise than they currently receive. Despite this, Klentak and MacPhail do deserve a little bit of blame. They failed to upgrade their starting rotation when there were viable options available. The Phillies could have easily signed a guy like Dallas Keuchel but instead chose not to make a move. This decision appeared to backfire once June arrived. Their recent acquisitions of Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas should help to make up for a bit of this mistake. However, Klentak and MacPhail do still deserve a small amount of blame for this team’s recent shortcomings.
When talking about what’s to blame this season for the Phillies, the injuries have to be mentioned. This team has been bitten by the injury bug all season long. Over the course of the season, 20 different players have made their way onto the injured list! That’s almost enough to fill an entire active roster! This large amount of injuries has resulted in inconsistencies for the team, especially the bullpen, as players have constantly been moved up and down from AAA Lehigh Valley. While the injuries do deserve some blame, they shouldn’t receive a large portion of the blame for the recent fall in the standings.
While it’s quite clear that the Phillies have struggled in recent weeks in a variety of ways, all is not lost for this season. Are they going to win the World Series this year? Probably not. However, they’re still just one game out of the postseason. Although many fans expect more out of their Phillies, simply reaching the playoffs this season would be a major success for this team. The Phillies haven’t made the postseason since 2011, which is currently the fourth longest playoff drought in all of baseball. If they are able to end that drought this year, these early struggles could easily be overlooked by this passionate fanbase. Only time will tell if that will be the case.