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January 26, 2019

Phillies' manager Gabe Kapler knows its postseason or bust in 2019

The Phillies made history last season. 

They became the latest team in MLB history to reach 15 games above .500 during the season and finish that season below .500 (at 80-82). 

Talk about a collapse.

As the Phillies prepare to head south to Clearwater to begin spring training in three weeks, one would expect looking back to last season — when they were in surprising first place in the NL East for much of the summer — is something to be avoided.

Quite the contrary. Manager Gabe Kapler knows the bitter taste from last season will be an important motivator for his returning players in the 2019 season. He wants them to remember.

"We won 80 games. We spent a good portion of the summer in first place, a significant increase of 14 wins from 2017," Kapler said earlier this week. "At the same time, 80 games doesn’t get you to the postseason. Our drive, our focus, our goal is getting to the postseason. 

"We talked about last year, why we weren't successful down the stretch. Sometimes experience and having been there through the grind of August and in the difficult parts of September, just having been there before and having gone through that as a roster makes you a better baseball club. 

"That youth has gained a lot of experience."

Having a short memory is typically the sign of a mature and mentally adept pro athlete. But in this case, remembering is important. The players share Kapler's view.

"We had a ton of disappointment during the year, things we aren't going to forget," Rhys Hoskins said. "The guys who went through that but we have made some additions that make us a better baseball club… it's hard not to be excited about it."

Newly signed ace reliever David Robertson has pitched in 30 postseason games over 13 series (including, of course, 2.1 scoreless relief innings when the Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series). Another signee, Andrew McCutchen, has played in 13 postseason games over six series. Both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have postseason experience and are targets for the ready-to-spend Phillies front office. 

Clearly, the Phillies want to bring in players with winning pedigrees.

"It's improved on the field," Aaron Nola said, "but I think getting those guys who have been in winning clubhouses and on winning teams, the chemistry is just going to get better, the relationships will just get better."

The Phillies are better on paper, and based on high profile acquisitions made already — also including infielder Jean Segura and relievers James Pazos and Juan Nicasio. 

They are probably better in the clubhouse, too. Getting the Phillies roster to play better on the field and win the 10 or so more games likely needed to get into the playoff picture, that is Kapler's responsibility. And it's one he's proud to take on.

"I love the challenge," the manager, entering just his second season as a Big League skipper, said. "I love the fact that it's different to lead in the city of Philadelphia and the reason is because people are so passionate. I wouldn’t want it any other way. The expectations for this team got bigger as we spent more time in first place last year and the expectations are much bigger now."

Philly will have a much higher payroll in 2019, a signal that the team expects to compete. Will that money buy more wins? 

Next season the pressure will be at an extremely high level from fans who are eager to find out.

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