The good news for the Phillies on Tuesday was that they moved one day closer to the end of the season. The bad news was they still have five games to get through.
The Phillies have lost six in a row and have shown such little punch that five games feel like 50. They will start Wednesday with a losing record for the first time since early April. Imagine learning in early August that not only would the Phillies miss the playoffs but they also would struggle to finish the season with a .500 record. It has been a wild two months.
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They won't fly a pennant over Ashburn Alley for the 2018 Phillies if they manage to finish the season with a winning record, but make no mistake: It would be quite a big deal if the Phils were able to overcome their collapse and finish the year with a better-than-.500 record.
The Phillies were 15 — fifteen! — games over .500 on Aug. 5. Tuesday's loss dropped them below .500 for the first time since April. A losing season would be embarrassing, but it almost seems unavoidable. The Phillies have struggled for seven weeks, and they have been especially flat during this final road trip of the season.
They have been outscored by 19 runs over their last four games. The Phillies, it seems, already have one foot in the offseason. And now they're expected to step back, fight for five games, win four of them, and finish the season with a winning record? They have two more games against the Rockies, who have their eyes set on snagging a playoff spot. Then the Phillies host the Braves, who are trying to secure home-field advantage in the postseason. Finishing with a winning record sure sounds like a stiff test.
The Phillies are ending the season the way they began it, as a losing club in disarray. The Phillies have lost six in a row and dropped below .500 for the first time since early April.
Gabe Kapler never seemed to lose his cool during the team's late-season collapse. He didn't get ejected or throw a tirade. He didn't have a heart attack like Lou Brown or flip a table like George Knox. Kapler was born in Hollywood, but he manages a bit differently than the skippers from baseball movies.
The late-season collapse will not cost any coaches their jobs, as Kapler said his entire coaching staff will return in 2019. The coaches are already under contract. "I love our staff," Kapler said. "I think they've done a tremendous job. They've worked especially hard all year long. They look out for each other, and I think they are already seeking process improvement for 2019.
"One of the things we discuss all the time is right after an event happens in a game or a batting practice session, we get together and talk about we can do it better next time, and I think we're getting to that place in the season where we're starting to think how can we do this better next time. And that includes kind of relentless process adjustments, figuring out ways we can make Version 2 better than Version 1. Create a better environment for our players, create better practice sessions, and figure out ways to make our players better and our team and our unit stronger."
Tonight: Nick Pivetta tries to stop the losing streak, 8:40 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta's final start of the season, 3:10 p.m.
Friday: Phillies return home for final three games, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies play season finale against Braves, 3:05 p.m.
The Phillies have played 23 games in September, and their starting pitcher has pitched five innings or more in just six of them. Vince Velasquez was lifted in Wednesday's fourth inning. The team's rise to first place this summer can be credited to the starting rotation, which was one of the best in baseball for much of the season. But the starters are not free from blame during the freefall, as they failed to pitch deep into games.
Question: A number of the Phillies had disappointing seasons but I think Rhys Hoskins heads the list. Of the five tools upon which baseball players are evaluated, he is above average in only one, hitting for power. He does not hit for average, run, field or throw at better than replacement level and his strikeout rate is too high. In my opinion, he is no better than a # 5 or 6 hole hitter on a championship level team. Yet, he is now being identified as the face of the Phillies. Am I missing something? Hope the column is back next year. – Jim L., email question
Answer: Thanks, Jim. I'm going to have to disagree and say Hoskins was one of the few Phillies who didn't have a disappointing season. He entered Tuesday night with 33 homers and a .845 OPS. He has the best hitting approach on the team and is a true team leader. Was he perfect? No. But he proved this season that last year was not a fluke and he is a bat the team can build around in the future.
There's a lot of blame for the team's collapse, but I don't think Hoskins shoulders much of it. It also wasn't his decision to move to the outfield. I think we'll see him back at first base next season and he'll have some better lineup protection assuming the Phils can attract free agents.