Phillies’ Awful September Underlines Deep Problems

The Phillies are stumbling to the finish line of the 2018 season. Photo courtesy NBC Sports.

This collapse isn’t as historic as the one in 1964, but it’s been a lot uglier.

The Phillies are stumbling to the finish line of the Major League baseball season after playing pretty good baseball for much of the year, although now it’s evident that early success was just fool’s gold.

How bad has it been? After Wednesday night’s 14-0 loss to Colorado, the Phillies were 6-18 in September, and that’s their worst record in the final month of the season since 1942.

That’s right – 76 years.

Perhaps the worst part of the Phillies’ September swoon is the effect it will have on their ability to attract top-tier free agents to Philadelphia. Players like Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Manny Machado will look at this team and the way its managed and it’s hard to see them wanting to come here.

Fans at Citizens Bank Park might see some new faces on their roster in 2019.

And when we say the way it’s managed, what we really mean is the way it’s over-managed by Gabe Kapler, who only needed one season to alienate the fans and maybe even his players.

I’m the first to admit that I’m an old-school kind of guy and the reliance on sabermetrics and all sorts of esoteric statistics is irritating, albeit useful at times.

And I have to admit that even though I’ve been a sports writer for 40 years, I don’t know what WAR is, or WHIP or OPS or ISO or WPA. And I’m still confused about things like launch angles. Basically, I’m content with batting average, RBIs and home runs on offense, and won-loss record, ERA and strikeout-walk ratio in pitching.

But Kapler loves sabermetrics and that’s the way he manages and that’s OK to a point, especially since that now seems to be the trend in all sports. But he relies too heavily on that stuff and you know the players don’t like it, and that’s why it will be difficult to lure a top free agent. No everyday player wants to be lifted in the second inning, like Scott Kingery was a couple of weeks ago because somebody on the bench has a better launch angle against the opposing pitcher, and no pitcher wants to be yanked from the game in the fourth inning for the same reason.

Another irritating thing about Kapler’s managing style is the way he shuffles his batting order on a daily basis because of those metrics that say, well, whatever it is they say. Ask any player and he’ll tell you he prefers playing the same position and being in the same spot in the batting order every day. Baseball is such a mental game and being bounced around the way Kapler does it doesn’t help a player’s confidence, especially a young player.

Maybe the most damning thing about Kapler’s first year as manager — look at the Phillies’ roster of young players and ask yourself how many of them improved significantly this season, or improved at all. Look at it another way – if you were constructing a major-league roster, how many of the current Phillies would you want on it. I can only think of three – pitcher Aaron Nola, first baseman Rhys Hoskins and outfielder Roman Quinn.

Actually, it’s hard to call Hoskins a first baseman, because even though that’s his natural position, he spent most of the season in left field, where he is below average defensively. And that’s another problem I have with Kapler – the way he plays guys out of their natural positions as he tries to fit square pegs into round holes.

Anyhow, highly-touted young players like Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and Scott Kingery didn’t improve this season – in fact, they all regressed. You can deal with losing if you see that the young prospects are progressing, and the Phillies’ aren’t.

Another thing about Kapler that irks Phillies fans – his constant rosy outlook on life, even though everybody, including the fans, can see that the Phils have been playing lousy baseball for some time now. That’s the same thing that made so many Eagles fans turn against former coach Andy Reid, even though, overall, his teams were the most successful in franchise history. But Reid would always fall back on the old “I have to put them in a better position to succeed,” even though the fans could clearly see the weaknesses the team had.

And that’s one thing most fans, especially Philly fans, hate – being told they’re stupid, which is basically what Reid said and what Kapler is saying. Although the manager finally acknowledged after Wednesday night’s two-touchdown defeat to the Rockies that the Phils are “playing really bad baseball right now – really bad baseball.”

How bad? Well, they can’t hit, pitch, field or run the bases, but other than that…

Not everything is Kapler’s fault, and you certainly can’t blame him for the disappointing seasons turned in by high-priced free agents Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana. And nobody should be fired after one season, especially with a roster of so many young players.

But if the Phillies have another season like this one the fans will continue to stay away in droves and the manager should be fired. Metrics are nice, but victories are nicer.

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About the Contributor

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.