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May 17, 2019

Five 'action steps' the Phillies, Gabe Kapler can take to shake things up

The Phillies are still in first place, but after losing three straight to the contending Brewers, the team has been left wondering how it factors into the full hierarchy of the National League.

Their current three-game losing streak is the second of the season and just the third dropped series of 2019. But the fact that two of those were against the Rockies (who are in town this week) and Milwaukee is troubling, as they have padded their place in the standings by taking advantage of the downtrodden NL East.

Over the last three games, the Phils were outscored 22-6. Manager Gabe Kapler isn't taking it lying down.

"Action steps have to come following a series like this," Kapler told the media Thursday night, after dropping three of four at home to the Brew crew. "You can't just sit on your hands and hope it's going to get better for the next series. We have to play very good baseball to beat teams like Milwaukee, Colorado and Chicago. We don't have the margin for error, most teams don't, when you play the best teams in the league."

The Phils play the Rockies, Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals and Dodgers in the next few weeks and could relent their division lead if the trend continues. Since Kapler didn't expand on what he meant by taking "action steps," we will do it for him.

Here are five things the Phillies can do to shake things up a bit:

Lineup change

Kapler tried this in Thursday afternoon's loss, moving Bryce Harper to the second spot and sliding Jean Segura to third. He also moved Cesar Hernandez up in the order. It didn't work. 

Perhaps it will take something more drastic.

The Phils have used the same framework of a lineup all season long, allowing for a few days off for players and for injuries. Perhaps more shuffling is required. Here is an example of a big change he could make to the lineup:

Player Slash
Cesar Hernandez.290/.360/.439
J.T. Realmuto.276/.337/.411
Jean Segura.312/.349/.486
Rhys Hoskins .273/.396/.558
Bryce Harper.221/.365/.429
Andrew McCutchen .239/.363/.390
Odubel Herrera.248/.300/.396
Maikel Franco.238/.314/.430

The top bats should be at the top of the order at this point, with the power hitters behind them. Something like the lineup above could be a temporary fix, and a way to get the big boys more at bats with runners ahead of them. It also take a little pressure off of the struggling Harper in the heart of the order.

Speaking of Harper...

Give Bryce a rest

Even after an injury scare a few days ago, the Phillies shiny, new, $330 million toy has played every single game this season. Is Bryce Harper pressing?

A few days ago the idea of rest was presented to both Kapler and Harper. Neither seemed open to the idea.

“I’m not sure a day off is going to work for me mentally or physically or anything like that,” Harper said back on Tuesday. “I just need to keep grinding, keep trying to get through it.”

Harper is human just like everyone else, and at this point, with him hitting just over the Mendoza line it seems like the likelihood of a day off doing more harm than good is pretty slim.

Bring back Pivetta

Nick Pivetta was clearly not reaching his full potential before he was sent to the minors last month, but a stint in Lehigh Valley appears to have done him good. He is 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts after he allowed 17 runs in 18.1 innings to start the year in Philly. 

With Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta mainstays in the rotation (struggles or not), Zach Eflin and Jerad Eickhoff mowing down hitters and the newly called up Cole Irvin looking to be fighting to stay in the majors, there isn't really a spot on the rotation for him. But perhaps a move to the bullpen, even temporarily, is in the cards as the Phils' pen has been mediocre at best this season. Getting their best arms on the hill is key, regardless of role sometimes.

Which makes us remember another rotation arm currently away from the big league club...

Move Velasquez to the pen

It's been argued for years — the hard throwing righty would be better in the bullpen. And now, with him on the IL and with no room for him in the rotation, it seems almost a no brainer decision for the Phils to place Velasquez in the bullpen where he doesn't need to worry about facing batters two or three times over.

Velasquez has been a strikeout king over his up and down big league career, a role he can perfect when trying to get just a few key outs per game instead of, you know, all the outs.

Front office help

Could Kapler have been alluding to some other kind of action step, the kind out of his control?

It's no secret that Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel are still available — and likely will be after the MLB draft in June passes and no longer requires a draft pick to be surrendered upon signing. Each would offer the team an upgrade — albeit an expensive one.

The trade deadline also looms, with hurlers like Madison Bumgarner thought to be available. However neither of these moves could really improve the Phillies chances of holding their own against the NL's best over the big stretch upcoming. Unless they decide to explore the trade market earlier than usual.

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