As of July 31st, the Phillies were sitting comfortably in first place in the National League’s eastern division. That lead, and the talent that backed up the position in the standings, was enough to prompt ownership and management to make a few upgrades prior to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Indeed, the club continued to make moves afterwards, including the acquisitions of Justin Bour and Jose Bautista.
Sadly for Phillies fans, however, that hasn’t lasted down the stretch. The club sits 6.5 games back of the Braves in the division race, and 5.5 contests behind the Dodgers and Rockies in competition for the second Wild Card spot. The offense, rotation and bullpen have all suffered setbacks at key moments, which has resulted in the team losing major ground in the playoff hunt.
MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki wonders whether the Phillies regressed, or simply returned to reality after an unsustainable good start. Despite the club’s performance down the stretch, general manager Matt Klentak has taken an optimistic take on their analytical and managerial approach to gameplay.
“When I was brought in here three years ago I wasn’t brought in here to do things the way they’d always been done,” Klentak said. “You guys remember that there was a narrative surrounding the Phillies that they were slow to adjust. So, that is our job, to move the needle, to stay current and win baseball games.” Klentak further explained that the Phillies are “not doing things so radically different that this has never been seen in baseball before” – even if some of those changes might be new to the organization.
“Candidly, this was an excellent season to try new things with a young roster and with relatively modest expectations and we did,” the Phillies’ general manager added. “Some of them worked and we’ll continue to use them, some of them didn’t and we won’t use them anymore. But we’ll continue pressing forward because that is our job.”
Klentak was also asked whether post-deadline roster chemistry might have had an impact on the club’s team-wide slump beginning in August. The manager assessed the situation and concluded that no one element was at fault for the collapse, or else they’d have been quick to identify it and make that adjustment. “We have theories about different things that may have contributed. It’s probably some kind of combination of a lot of things. I will not sit here and tell you the chemistry changed in such a way that that is the reason we struggled. I don’t believe that.”
Of course, it’s feasible to wonder whether the Phillies overachieved in the season’s first four months and simply regressed after the end of July. Klentak acknowledged that the team considered that possibility as the deadline approached, but felt compelled to go for it and acquire Wilson Ramos, Asdrubal Cabrera and Aaron Loup. Klentak decided to further “double down” in August by adding Bour, Bautista, and Luis Avilan.
Though the playoffs are now a long shot for a Phillies club sitting 5.5 games back in the wild card with 14 left to play, the club is well-positioned to make a run at big names such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in free agency. The club has six players under contract for about $70MM in 2019, plus a full slate of arbitration eligible players. For a club that ran payrolls in the range of $140-175MM not long ago, just about anything will be on the table when the bidding begins.