By Ryan Waterman
This season, for Phillies fans, was about as brutal as they come. A team that was considered to be a third or fourth-place team at best in the NL East greatly overachieved, and found themselves in the driver's seat for their first division championship since 2011. However, a horrendous 21-34 record over the final two months of the season not only lost them the division, but it also knocked them out of the postseason entirely, and locked in yet another losing season for the franchise.
"We are the most inconsistent team I've ever been associated with."
Whenever your team president utters that sentiment, you know that you're doing something wrong. That being said, it can't be said that MacPhail's statement at today's End of Season presser is not accurate. Take, for example, their August 15th date with the league-leading Boston Red Sox. Right-hander Vince Velasquez allowed three runs on four hits over two-and-a-third innings of shaky work. When manager Gabe Kapler turned the keys over to the bullpen, it was lights-out for arguably the most potent offensive attack in baseball, mustering a single run on six hits over the final six-and two-third innings. A dominating performance against the league's elite, which gave way to the embarrassment that occurred not even 24-hours later, where one of the league's worst scoring offenses, the New York Mets, piled up 24 runs against rookie Ranger Suarez. While, obviously an outlier, this was a pattern to a lesser degree throughout the course of the season. Part of that falls on the on-field production, although, there's a fair amount of blame to fall on skipper Gabe Kapler.
"If you're just overly positive, overly positive, then you lose credibility with the fans after a while."
It's been nearly one year since Kapler was brought in to right the ship that Pete Mackanin struggled to direct. Things got off to a shaky start with a catastrophic pitching blunder, but Kapler was able to right the ship on his way to what would've been a storybook Manager of the Year campaign. Once the Dog Days of Summer hit though, the wheels fell off of Kapler's bus, and the team tumbled down the standings. One of Gabe's signatures has been his post-game positivity. Even in defeat, Kapler was always upbeat, and praised his player's performances -- which began to wear thin on the fan base. Amidst their late season collapse, fans contemplated whether Kapler was "too nice" for the job, and if it was necessary for the organization's long-term success to admit their mistake, and sever ties. MacPhail didn't seem to utter that belief during today's presser, but he did directly address Kapler's positivity, stating "Gabe, I'm a New Yorker. I don't think anybody can be that positive." Clearly, the Phillies appear set on allowing Kapler the opportunity to lead this organization to success, although, his continued positivity without positive results could complicate things.
"This ownership group has demonstrated it's not afraid to have a payroll in the top-five."
Philadelphia has long been linked to the 2018-19 Free Agent Class, as it's one of the most star-studded that baseball has seen in recent memory. Names such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Dallas Keuchel will look to cash-in, while names such as Clayton Kershaw and David Price could add to the elite depth of this winter's player pool. Interestingly enough, both Harper and Machado will fill needs for the Phillies, offensively and defensively. MacPhail actually managed to send conflicting messages today, also noting that "you’re not going to throw every resource you have at this year." It's worth noting that MacPhail also downplayed the Phillies offseason approach last winter, before the team added a number of veterans including Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta, and Tommy Hunter. Will this offseason be the one that sees Philadelphia jump from a team on the rise to legitimate contender? If you believe Andy, then you'll likely be disappointed. Although, his short track record suggests that we'll need to monitor things through the winter months.
MacPhail also touched on other topics, including Odubel Herrera, summing up "Bubble's" 2018, almost in comparison to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, asking "which Herrera are we going to get?" A fair point, considering Herrera was a dark-horse MVP candidate prior to the All-Star break, sporting a .275/.327/.460 batting line with 16 homers, 52 RBIs, and five stolen bases. However, the bottom fell out post-All Star break, as Herrera possessed a .214/.279/.342 triple-slash with six home runs and 19 RBI. The driving force behind his regression was a drop in BABIP, which tumbled from a first-half mark of .316 to a .241 over the second half. Those stats played a major part in Herrera's .205 average in August, and his abysmal .171 in September. One has to wonder if Herrera's days in Philadelphia are numbered, as this is not the first time he's been questioned in pinstripes.
"I mean, the other team, maybe they'll find the key."
Perhaps the most interesting quote of MacPhail's presser came at the subject of current third baseman Maikel Franco, one of the more polarizing members of the Phillies organization. Once a touted prospect, Franco has yet to put it all together in a Phillies uniform. His tenure has been a roller coaster, having ups and downs. A .270 hitter in 2018, a large part of Franco's success comes from a red-hot August, which MacPhail references in his remarks, noting that "I've got Franco hitting .330 in July and then backing it up with a .240 in August." What might be most telling is MacPhail's quote about the "other team." Franco's long been the subject of trade rumors, and those rumors intensified this season with the selection of Wichita State's Alec Bohm in June's MLB Draft, and the team's well-documented pursuit of superstar Manny Machado. Much like with Herrera, one has to wonder if Franco's days in pinstripes are primed to come to an end in 2018?
The Phillies took a large step forward in 2018, but came up short when the games counted. Some attest that it was the team's youth coming back to Earth, others believe it was tired vets playing like tired vets. Regardless, it seems that the organization is prime for a shakeup this winter. To what degree, remains a mystery. One thing that is certain though, Andy MacPhail doesn't appear comfortable with just improving. He wants more, and his comments suggest that he's not afraid to take some risks in doing so.