Gabe Kapler’s Phillies contended for four months. They’ll end this season with at least a dozen more wins than last year, and perhaps their best record since 2011.
So why do I feel so lousy?
The simple answer is that, for all the hopes they raised through mid-summer, this squad proved to be a cruel illusion. A fraud. Because, in the simplest sense, the franchise is in worse shape than it was a year ago.
Think of it this way: At spring training, you squinted and saw the beginnings of a nucleus. There was excitement in a lineup with youngsters Jorge Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, J.P. Crawford, Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams. None was older than 26 and each showed real promise in 2017.
So what happened? Well, through injury and manager’s decision, Crawford never got into the lineup, at least at his natural position. Kingery – guaranteed $23 million off a hot month in Clearwater – was shoved in at shortstop and will finish 2018 with the worst OPS and WAR among all 78 NL players getting at least 475 plate appearances.
And all of the others declined — some dramatically. So, too, did Aaron Altherr and Cesar Hernandez.
Did we overrate them all, hoping for a recreation of the group that brought all that glory a decade ago? Perhaps. But I’ll also lay blame at an organization – from Matt Klentak down – that turned every batter into a launch-angle-obsessed automaton seeking homers and walks, with no regard to other aspects of hitting.
These Phillies are ranked second-worst in strikeouts in the NL and just .001 above the league-worst team batting average. They don’t hit-and-run, or bunt, or advance the baserunner.
They also have the second-highest errors total. A franchise so keen on analytics must sweat over being dead last in “defensive runs saved,” at minus-121. So much for all of Gabe Kapler’s shifting. So much for stationing half your guys out of their natural position.
Many fans think the panacea is signing Manny Machado or Bruce Harper (or both) this off-season. But unless, like Bugs Bunny, they can play all nine positions, they won’t cure the problems.
Meanwhile, this season’s highly touted free agent haul proved a disaster. Jake Arrieta, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter combined for $47 million of stolen money. Carlos Santana drew walks, hit homers and pushed Hoskins into left field, where the youngster seemed as tentative as a squirrel darting through traffic.
Listen, I’ll embrace Hoskins (as a first baseman) as one position player I truly believe in for the future. Add in starter Aaron Nola, whose brilliant stats line would have a few more “Ws” if Kapler’s itchy finger hadn’t pulled him too early a few times.
Beyond that? Maybe Nick Pivetta or Zach Eflin can prove they’re more than a few solid starts followed by calamity. Maybe Seranthony Dominguez recovers his arm strength and confidence in the off-season. Maybe Vince Velasquez can finally . . . well, never mind.
What are we really left with? Nola and Hoskins as long-term keepers, plus a bunch of fading prospects. A one-track offense and a defense comprised of butchers; a skittish starting staff and a bullpen with a cast of 1,000 mediocre specialists.
All that, plus a GM and manager foisting a brand of baseball that led to a 15-29 record down the stretch.
This needs to be an active off-season, and not just pursuing free agents. The Phils must look at their organization, from top to bottom.