What Went Wrong: Phillies Season Ends at the .500 Mark
After opening the season with a sweep of the Atlanta Braves and winning two out of three from the Washington Nationals, things have not gone so well for the Phillies.
The team that started 4-1 and peaked at 11 games over the .500 mark concluded their season Sunday with a loss to the Miami Marlins and finished 81-81.
On "Fan Appreciation Day", the lineup was certainly not the one that the fans saw Opening Day. The Opening Day lineup included five former All-Stars. The game 162 lineup included just one: prized free agent signing Bryce Harper.
The Phillies lost Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto in recent days. Andrew McCutchen went down one fateful day in May, preceded just before by the arrest of Odubel Herrera that led to a suspension.
The final lineup included Sean Rodriguez and Andrew Knapp, whose 2019 seasons were not fan favorites this season. The twice-demoted Maikel Franco played third base. "Bamboo" Brad Miller, a utility infielder, played left field and was the story of the day.
Here is what happened along the way that made the team that started out hot ultimately mediocre:
1. Bullpen Injuries
The Phillies lost six of their projected bullpen/the next man up. Injuries bit David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, Victor Arano, and Edubray Ramos. The bullpen was thought to be so deep that they could have Arano or Ramos stashed in the minor leagues in case of an injury.
Of the projected Opening Day bullpen, only Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez stayed healthy. Luckily (if you want to call that luck), both were healthy and provided strong seasons in the bullpen. The Phillies took back Juan Nicasio as a salary dump from the Seattle Mariners in hopes he could repeat past success but he had little left in the tank.
While it is easy to place the blame on "bad luck", some fault rests with the front office. The strategy to completing the bullpen was to sign older relievers to high-dollar, short-term contracts. The short-term length of the contract was designed to protect the club from an injury; the club would not be locked in for many years.
In reality, all three expensive-but-short-term relievers (Robertson, Hunter, Neshek) cost the Phillies more money against their competitive balance tax than Harper did. Imagine what that money could have done for the Phillies if not tied up on the injured list.
2. Banking on the Starting Rotation With Question Marks from 2018
The trio of Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta faltered down the stretch in 2018. The Phillies looked at free agents Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ to try to add depth beyond Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. The Phillies failed to land Corbin and Happ and instead of adding in another form, the Phillies simply stood pat.
Velasquez, Eflin, and Pivetta were each demoted at times. Worse yet, the only insurance behind them was Jared Eickhoff, coming off injury, and who it turned out never really sufficiently healed.
This leads to point three.
3. The Phillies Go the Cheap Route to Add a Starter In-Season
Along the way, the Phillies added Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas. Smyly was just okay, going 3-2 with a 4.45 earned run average. Vargas won just one game for the Phillies, pitching to a 1-4 record and 5.37 earned run average.
Among the higher-profile pitchers to change hands included Zack Greinke and Marcus Strohman.
The attitude seemed to come from above: "If we don't, we don't", said Phillies president Andy MacPhail, in regards to making the playoffs. The Phillies decided that a Wild Card buy-in game was simply not worth devoting any resources. So general manager Matt Klentak simply turned to the scrap heap to get through the season.
It was easy to figure that out.
4. Failure to Capitalize against the Miami Marlins and other Poor Teams
The Phillies actually won the season series against division winner the Atlanta Braves. But when it came to the 105-loss Miami Marlins, it was a different story. The Phillies had just one winning series out of six against the Marlins. They were swept by the Marlins once.
The Phillies went 3-4 against the San Francisco Giants and lost two out of three to the Chicago White Sox.
5. Streakiness of Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera
Hernandez, Franco, and Herrera are the holdovers from seasons past. The Opening Day lineup featured the former 1-3-4 hitters in the six, seven, and eight-spots in the lineup. Despite MacPhail preaching that the club needed consistency from their lineup, all three returned as starters in 2019.
Heading in 2020, Franco and Hernandez may simply be non-tendered and go about their merry ways. Herrera, whose suspension is now over with the season done, struggled before an arrest landed him on the restricted list in May.
Herrera batted .302 in the month of April as the Phillies got off to a hot start. But Herrera quickly cooled. In May he batted just .175 before being placed on administrative leave. But that two-month glimpse has been par for the course for Herrera in his career. Even with baseball reasons alone, it's easy to make the case he should go.
Hernandez put together an OPS of .991 in May. However, in June he dipped to .660 and then .619 in July. Hernandez continued to fail to use his speed to make a difference on the base paths.
Franco was frequently touted the "best 8-hole hitter in baseball" after frequent intentional walks and home runs in the first few weeks. Then May came and Franco batted just .170, with an OPS of .476 for the month.
6. Losing their Table-setter, Andrew McCutchen
It is hard to fault the Phillies for signing McCutchen over the other possibility, Michael Brantley. One of the two stayed on the field all the time; the other was frequently injured. The Phillies opted for the one with the track record of health.
For the first time in his career, McCutchen spent extended time on the disabled list after tearing his ACL. The move was a really disappointing blow; the intangible benefit of McCutchen getting on base ahead of the other big guys really made a difference. McCutchen has long been respected as one of the fine human beings who commands respect of the room.
That really hurt. The Phillies got some help from Jay Bruce and later Corey Dickerson, but they succumbed to injuries of their own.
7. The Second Half of Rhys Hoskins
When first baseman Hoskins entered the All-Star break with 20 home runs, how many would one expect him to have the rest of the way? Unfortunately for the Phillies, Hoskins was not himself the rest of the way. Frequently, people called him "lost".
It was definitely a tale of two halves for Hoskins:
- .263 batting average, 20 home runs, 59 runs batted in, .931 OPS
- .179 batting average, 9 home runs, 26 runs batted in, .680 OPS
The fall of Hoskins could be a big reason why hitting coach John Mallee was dismissed along the way.
A sophomore slump? Perhaps. But the book is out on Hoskins and pitchers know where his weak spots are. It will be up to him (with the help of the next hitting coach) to make things happen.
So Now What?
The Phillies will make some changes, that's for sure. The Phillies very well could make a change at manager. The Phillies will have a new hitting coach no matter what. Probably another pitching coach, too.
Looking at points four through seven, they all have the potential to get better rather easily. But all in all, it's easy to say that the first three points on the list could have cost the Phillies the eight wins that made all the difference in going home or making the playoffs.
Notice, the manager and except for Mallee, the coaching staff is not mentioned on this list. The Phillies could add a manager. They could add a pitching coach. But at the end of the day, this roster was never in a position to succeed. When they could have added, they did not.
"If we don't, we don't".
They didn't. Your 2019 season is a .500 team.