Imagine if someone told you, after the Phillies completed a four-game sweep of the Marlins on Aug. 5 and improved to 63-48, that they would have a .500 record only seven weeks later. As Richie Ashburn undoubtedly would've said, "Hard to believe, Harry." Incomprehensible, actually.
But that's the Phillies' reality. After getting rocked by the Rockies, 10-1, last night at Coors Field, they are 78-78, back to .500 for the first time since they were 5-5. Matt Klentak and Gabe Kapler can keep saying that the Phillies exceeded spring-training expectations by contending for a division title into September, but a 15-30 free fall changes the narrative.
With six games left, the Phillies must finish 4-2 to clinch their first winning season since 2011. Anything less, and it will be difficult for them to spin this as a success.
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As the season has spiraled out of control over these past seven weeks, Phillies officials have explored every possible explanation. But here's one thing that all the analytics in the world can't measure: chemistry.
For most of the season, the Phillies had the youngest roster in baseball, with many of the players having come up together through the minor leagues. And when they were winning early in the season, the clubhouse vibe was undeniably positive, highlighted by laser lights and dance music after every victory.
There hasn't been an outward sign that anything changed for the worse after general manager Matt Klentak pulled off six trades in July and August. And surely he would have been criticized if he stood pat and didn't make moves to improve the team. Even Klentak doesn't deny that the clubhouse mix was invariably altered by the new faces — Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos, Justin Bour, Jose Bautista, Aaron Loup and Luis Avilan — but ultimately, he doesn't believe it was an issue.
Asked last weekend if chemistry is to blame for the Phillies' fall, neither Jake Arrieta nor Rhys Hoskins completely discounted the possibility.
Said Arrieta: "Chemistry is a factor, but it's not the only reason teams win games. I'm not saying the chemistry here isn't good, because in my opinion it is. If something's going on, that doesn't mean you're going to lose or you're going to win. I didn't feel a difference post[-trade]-deadline. I don't think anybody in here is going to make an excuse for why the season turned out the way it did."
An ugly month is turning painful for the Phillies, Matt Breen writes, after Zach Eflin felt tightness in his left side and Aaron Altherr crashed face-first into the left-field wall. Matt has updates on the condition of both players.
For Jerad Eickhoff, the payoff for an injury-marred season could be a start later this week. The guess here: Eickhoff will start Game 162 on Sunday against the Braves.
Sure, Gabe Kapler is progressive. But how much progress did the Phillies really make in his first season at the helm? Bob Ford tackles that question, as only he can.
Speaking of Kapler, in case you missed it in Sunday's paper, a few observations about his managerial philosophy, the most relevant being that, like it or not, it represents the new "Phillies Way."
Tonight: Vince Velasquez puts his 3.66 FIP on the line at Colorado, 8:40 p.m. Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta makes his final scheduled start, 8:40 p.m. Thursday: Jake Arrieta faces Rockies in his last start of the season, 3:40 p.m. Friday: Aaron Nola starts season's final series at home vs. Braves, 7:05 p.m.
When the Phillies traded for Asdrubal Cabrera on July 27, they viewed him as a major offensive upgrade over rookie Scott Kingery, who had been their primary shortstop for most of the previous three months.
It didn't work out that way.
Cabrera is batting .228 and slugging .392 with 13 doubles, five home runs, a .286 on-base percentage and a .678 OPS in 171 at-bats for the Phillies. And while there's no sugarcoating the overall depth of Kingery's first-year struggles, his numbers in 23 starts since the trade are comparable to Cabrera's. In those starts, the 24-year-old is batting .208 (15 for 72) and slugging .403 with one double, one triple, three homers, a .256 on-base percentage and a .659 OPS.
Answer: Thanks, Dan, for the question. The presumption among many officials from rival teams is that Phillies owner John Middleton is itching to go on a spending spree. The club has less than $70 million in payroll commitments for next season, so there's plenty of money to burn. Bet on the Phillies' pursuing both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but I think it's probably ambitious to think they will sign the two marquee free agents, a daily double that could cost upwards of $600 million.