Their fans probably won’t listen. They’re still in shock and anger, having watched a Phillies team, who led the N.L. East the first week in August at 64-49 stage an epic meltdown the rest of the way, dropping them down to third and below .500.
They’ll point to the shoddy defense, inconsistent hitting, systematic breakdown of the starting pitching which sustained them the first four-plus months, the erratic bullpen, which caused the Phillies to lose 10 games where they led after seven innings and more.
Inside the Phillies’ locker room hours before they’d continue playing out the string against the newly crowned N.L. East champion Braves—a series everyone thought would be pivotal until only recently—the scene was surreal. While the music blared and players began to fill boxes with their gear to prepare for the offseason, some tried to make sense of the whole thing.
Rather than let it eat at them all winter, they came to the conclusion the best advice might simply be to look ahead and follow the words of a Disney character.
“You’ve got to let it go,” said Nick Williams, before Aaron Nola hurled another gem and the Phillies finally snapped their ugly nine-game losing streak Saturday. “This is a young team that has a lot of talent.”
“I believe we’re going to be crazy good. So just let it go. I want to take the positives rather than the negatives from the season. Just think ‘I need to get better at this, this and that’, he added.”
Of course, management won’t think that way and sweep it all under the rug. After showing so much promise to see it all unravel as it did— finalized by the disastrous eight-game trip to Atlanta and Colorado, where the Phils were outscored 60-21—they’re left with nagging questions and obvious holes to fill.
Do they try to fill them through free agency—with Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson heading the list of hitters, lefthanders Patrick Corbin and Dallas Kuechel and J.A, Happ atop potential starters and closers Craig Kimbrel, Kelvin Herrera and Cody Allen all on the open market?
Do they go the trade route, offering up players like the enigmatic Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Aaron Altherr and/or some of their best pitching and hitting prospects?
Or do they essentially stand pat, coming to the conclusion this was an aberration, which they’ll all learn from and be better prepared for next time?
That’s kind of how manager Gabe Kapler sees it.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it,” said Kapler, who’s been given assurance from general manager Matt Klentak he’ll be back in 2019. “I think, quite simply, we can be better prepared for August and September and being strong through those months.”
“The fact that we went through this once in August and September, and a lot of our young, developing players experienced the pressure and the magnitude of the situation means they’ll be better equipped to handle it next year,” he explained.
So then how does Kapler evaluate the season, especially considering the way these Phillies rose above all expectations before their epic fall?
“We believed in spring training that we had the talent to be a playoff-caliber baseball team,” replied Kapler, whose reliance on analytics, defensive shifts, playing for the big inning and home runs rather than playing small ball frustrated fans.
“We believe that talent is still there. There are some strong positives to take away from the season thus far and there are some things that we know that we have to get better at. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag.”
That mixed bag has resulted in the Phillies’ seventh consecutive losing season—the first time in baseball history a team’s gone from 15 games over .500 to under .500 –wiping away much of the good feeling they had generated.
Therefore, it’s up to Klentak, Kapler and owner John Middleton to figure out a way to somehow bring that good feeling back.