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August 12, 2019

What they're saying: Phillies could be making some much-needed changes before long

Plus a look at how Bryce Harper has been playing and the Phils' schedule down the stretch

On Monday, MLB released the Phillies schedule for the 2020 season. And given the current state of the team after losing three of four to the Giants and dropping their third series in a row, fans may be ready to start shifting their focus to next year.

As the losses — and injuries — continue to mount, it's beginning to look less and less likely that this Phillies team, a team that went out and spent more money in the offseason than any team in baseball history, will miss out on the playoffs for a second straight year under manager Gabe Kapler. 

Fans are starting to look for somewhere to place the blame — and while a lot of that blame has been directed toward Kapler, it's not the players are doing him many favors. 

The Phillies face a crucial homestand that begins on Tuesday against the Cubs. And now that they're sitting in fourth place in a division many picked them to win heading into the 2019 season, it's fair to wonder if they even have the ability to turn it around down the stretch without making some changes first. However, with no more waiver trades allowed this year, the Phillies have lost one of their many resources for shaking things up once the calendar hits August.

Still, there are rumblings that something could change before the team takes the field against Chicago. And that's where we'll start today's edition of What They're Saying about the Phillies... 

Ripe for change?

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Phillies scribe Jim Salisbury dropped this little gem in his Monday morning Phillies story:

Things have gone so badly for the Phillies lately that you have to wonder if the front office will use the opportunity of an off day on Monday to shake some things up with possibly a coaching change or a personnel move.

Just something maybe to keep an eye on. The situation seems ripe. The Phils are two games out of the NL wild-card chase, trailing two teams. There are 44 games left and as bad as things have been, manager Gabe Kapler is still full of fight.  []

When a guy who is as plugged in as Salisbury leaves you a cryptic clue like that, you better not ignore it. There's no telling how the Phillies could chose to shake things up, but they're running short on both time and options.

Perhaps the change could be something as simple as shutting down Jake Arrieta for the rest of the season. The veteran starter has been pitching through a bone spur in his right elbow and was limited to just three innings in Sunday's loss to the Giants. After the game, he told reporters that he couldn't throw his breaking pitches against San Francisco — and at this point, you have to wonder if he's still better than whatever the Phillies could bring in to replace him, like Kapler said when Arrieta's injury was first revealed. 

According to Salisbury's story, Arrieta seemed less certain than ever that he would continue pitching through this injury, which will ultimately require surgery anyway.

“Yeah, it hurts every day,” Arrieta said afterward. “Today, I lacked the ability to throw any off-speed stuff with effectiveness and they made me pay for it..."

After his previous starts, Arrieta had always been adamant that he wants to keep pitching with the bone spur. He plans corrective surgery in the offseason.

But after this one, he hedged when asked if he would keep pitching.

“I don’t necessarily want to make a decision right now,” he said. “We’ll have the off day Monday and maybe have a conversation on Tuesday.”  [] 

MORE: Paul Hagen: For Kapler and the Phillies, actions must speak louder than words

Something's gotta give

John Stolnis | The Good Fight

During Sunday night's nationally televised broadcast, former cheater Alex Rodriguez took Gabe Kapler to task for how he's managed the Phillies this year, and it was hard to argue with the majority of his points. On Monday afternoon, PhillyVoice contributor Kevin Cooney was on 97.3 FM in Atlantic City and said he doesn't see Kapler coming back if this team fails to make the postseason, which was the club's stated goal at the beginning of the season. 

Whether or not any offseason changes make it all the way to Kapler remains to be seen, although the organization seems to be fully behind him, even now. That being said, it's clear that something needs to change, as John Stolnis wrote for The Good Phight... 

Something needs to change.

Maybe it’s the manager. Maybe it’s the hitting coach. Maybe it’s the pitching coach. Maybe it’s the general manager. Maybe it’s all four. Maybe the entire organizational philosophy has to be re-evaluated, including the general manager, because virtually nothing this team has tried to do has worked...

When this many things go wrong over the course of two seasons, perhaps the process wasn’t right. Perhaps it’s not all just bad luck.

The Phils have a lot of good players on this team, but at the moment, they are a bad team, and don’t seem to have any answers.

When that happens, sometimes it’s necessary to bring in new people to ask new questions.  []

Put it on my schedule

Craig Edwards | ESPN+

Sure, the Phillies' 2020 schedule came out on Monday, but if you're still not ready to give up on this season, then the team's remaining 2019 schedule is still the more important one. And if the Phillies need to make the playoffs to save face this season and keep their coaching staff in tact, they're going to have a tough time. Their schedule is hardly the easiest of the remaining NL wild card contenders. 

Phillies' schedule: Cubs, Padres, at Red Sox, at Marlins, Pirates, Mets, at Reds, at Mets, Braves, Red Sox, at Braves, at Indians, at Nationals, Marlins ...

As for the remaining teams, the Mets just rode the easiest part of their schedule to get back in the race. It will get a lot tougher from here on out, with matchups against every division leader, including the Braves three times, plus Cleveland, Washington, Philadelphia (twice) and Arizona. If they are still in the race in late September, their closing schedule against the Rockies, Reds, Marlins and the maybe-already-clinched Braves presents an opportunity.

The Phillies have it just as bad as the Mets, with a bunch of games against the Braves, plus the Red Sox, Cubs and Indians. If they are in a fight with the Nationals for a wild-card spot, the two teams play a big series right before Philadelphia closes with the Marlins.

The Diamondbacks don't have it as tough as the Mets and Phillies, but it isn't as easy as the Nationals. They have a bunch of games against the bottom of their division plus a few against the Marlins and Padres. It's not a cakewalk, but hardly a disaster.

Overall, the wild-card schedule favors the Cardinals and Nationals, with the Brewers and Diamondbacks in the middle and the Mets and Phillies needing to finish very strong if they want to make the playoffs.  []

MORE: A-Rod rips Gabe Kapler for 'careless managing' on ESPN

Checking in on Bryce

Tom Verducci | Sports Illustrated

Bryce Harper hasn't been setting the world on fire in his first season with the Phillies. But that's OK. Just because he isn't posting eye-popping numbers doesn't mean he isn't having a solid season. 

Over at Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci looked at how the offseason's top two free agents, Harper and Manny Machado, are faring in their first year with their new clubs. Since this post — and pretty much everything surrounding the Phillies — has been so negative lately, let's take a look at some of the good Verducci has seen from Harper this season.

Let’s look at how pitchers “value” Harper. If he’s having a down year, it would stand to reason that pitchers can be more aggressive pitching to him. That’s simply not the case. Instead, this is the best compliment anybody can give Harper about his 2019 season: pitchers avoid throwing strikes to Harper more than anybody in baseball.

More hidden value: Harper is hitting .381 with runners in scoring position–a career best–slugging .659 in high-leverage situations, driving in a higher percentage of runners than ever before, and unlike last season, when he seemed to be in self-preservation mode, he actually is leaving his feet to attempt to make catches on defense...

He's still on track to finish with 30 homers and 107 RBI, which would be a career high. His clutch numbers are excellent. More than anything else, he will be judged and how he and the Phillies do down the stretch in a tight wild-card race.  []

Interestingly enough, Verducci believes Harper will be judged on where the Phillies finish in the standings... just like his manager. But judging purely on results without also examining the process that led to those results can be dangerous and short-sighted. 

Where do Phillies broadcasters rank?

Joe Lucia | Awful Announcing

Over at Awful Announcing, they recently published the results of their annual rankings of local baseball TV broadcasters. And the Phillies crew did considerable better than they did last season. In fact, it was their highest ranking (and overall score) in the five years since Awful Announcing started this list. 

Since he's the only new guy in the booth, we'll call this the "Jimmy Rollins Bump."

12. Philadelphia Phillies: 2.483

-Tom McCarthy (play by play)
-Ben Davis (analyst)
-John Kruk (analyst)
-Jimmy Rollins (analyst)
-Mike Schmidt (analyst)

Previous rankings: 26 (2014), 17 (2016), 15 (2017), 19 (2018)
Previous grades: 1.90 (2014), 2.33 (2016), 2.34 (2017), 2.27 (2018)

Most popular grade: A (30.57% of votes)

Analysis: Phillies fans sure turned up this year, giving the team their highest score and ranking since we’ve started doing this. Only the Dodgers and Yankees received more total votes, but if ten of those A votes didn’t show up for the Phillies, they would have slipped behind the Cubs and into 13th. Maybe the ranking is a bit high, but the range seems okay to me.  []

MORE: Cooney: Ignore the standings, this Phillies team isn’t close to being ready to win again

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