Ignore for one moment, if you can, the Philadelphia Phillies latest bullpen collapse against Washington Sunday night, a blown opportunity to put pressure on the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. My hunch is you were sleeping anyway as it approached midnight and manager Gabe Kapler’s so-called “Dudes” coughed up six straight runs to lose 8-6.
Yes, that’s maddening. And, yes, we’ll get back to that momentarily.
Instead, focus for now on where this ball club is as we approach the season’s halfway point: 41-34 and just 2.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves. Sitting in a playoff spot if the season were to end today.
Hard to believe, Harry. This is all happening even as the defense has been dreadful, the offense too often unproductive. And despite Kapler’s insistence that those gasoline pourers are actually “a major strength,” the bullpen has been a hot mess.
And yet, these upstart Phils are winning – because of starting pitching, timely hitting and, yes, a rookie manager who occasionally pulls the right strings. Odubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins have both emerged from deep slumps.
In the past eight games, they are hitting a combined .383 with seven homers, 17 runs and 13 RBIs. Even third baseman Maikel Franco escaped from deep storage to contribute.
They won two-of-three games in each of their last four series, all against contenders. And, now, here come the despised New York Yankees to town for a three-game set. The good news: The Yanks are in a mini-slump, having just dropped three to Tampa. The bad news: The New Yorkers arrive with their army of loathsome supporters in tow.
Let’s be honest. There is no fan base as ill-mannered, whiny and self-entitled as those wearing the “NY” on their hat. As an Eagles fan, I rail against stereotypes. But hey, when the shoe fits . . .
I’ve used this space previously to examine why Phils fans are sitting home and ignoring a good team this season. Alas, I need to quote a Yankee, Yogi Berra, who said, “If people don’t want to come to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop ‘em.”
True enough. But while the locals aren’t filling the seats, I fear the New Jersey Transit lines will be stuffed with the loud and the slovenly on their pilgrimage to Citizens Bank Park. I’ll be in the seats on Tuesday night, likely surrounded by a chorus of Mike Francesca wannabes. Ah, well.
Perhaps the train schedule forces them to leave early, before Kapler has to wave toward that sham of a bullpen. And, getting back to it, we can’t really blame that debacle on the young manager.
The time has come for GM Matt Klentak to give his surprising team some back-of-the-pen help. I know the party line is that things will get better when set-up man Pat Neshek returns from his 867th trip to the disabled list. But Neshek is a delicate teacup who averages under 50 innings a season (when healthy) and often declines to take the ball on back-to-back days.
No, Klentak needs to find a rock-solid ninth-inning closer, or at least someone able to share the job with young Seranthony Dominguez. The Nats stole Kelvin Herrera from the Kansas City Royals last week for a bag of shells. Now the Phils need to find their anchor.
The players are doing their job now. The manager, too. It’s time for the general manager to make a move to keep this surprising team in the race.