From the outset of the offseason, expectations were high for the Philadelphia Phillies. In spite of the now infamous “stupid money” comment made by team owner John Middleton, a comment that, for the record, was completely misconstrued, the Phillies spent smart money. The team, under Matt Klentak, operated in a prudent and disciplined manner to get the best bang for the buck while finding additions that would bolster both the win total alongside the number of fans in the stands.
As of this point, the front office plan has been a great success. The Phillies succeeded in bringing fans back into Citizens Bank Park, while also selling a massive amount of merchandise in the process with free agent Bryce Harper as the new face of the franchise. Further, while pre-season expectations from national pundits varied on where the Phillies would land, the Phils quickly seized control of the division as the New York Mets and Washington Nationals stumbled. The biggest opponent to the Phillies regaining their permanent place amongst the top of the National League East remains the Atlanta Braves, who currently sit two games behind the Phillies.
Concurrent to their success, the Phillies have suffered a significant amount of injuries and issues to both the outfield and bullpen thus far. At 34-27, with a little more than a third of the season gone, the team has already lost four outfielders: Andrew McCutchen (torn ACL), Aaron Altherr (released), Nick Williams (demoted) and Odubel Herrera (MLB Commisioner exempt list), as well as seven of their eight bullpen arms, including Tommy Hunter, David Robertson and Victor Arano for extended time. In their place, while the team continues to wait for oft-injured Roman Quinn to get healthy, they must rely upon rookie Adam Heasley and former all-star/journeyman Jay Bruce, while the bullpen is being held together by the proverbial duct tape and bandaids.
Given these setbacks, the question beckons: what can now be viewed as reasonable expectations moving forward for the Philadelphia Walking Wounded? The first game without McCutchen, who by all accounts was having a fantastic year, could not have gone better for his replacement, the newly acquired Jay Bruce. Bruce slugged a double and two home runs, one of which was a grand slam, in beating the San Diego Padres. Despite Bruce’s heroics, expectations should remain tempered for the slugger, as he joined the Phillies batting just .212.
In addition to Bruce, relying on Heasley, Quinn and super utility man Scott Kingrey will likely not be enough to help the Phillies fend off the streaking Braves. Nor will the lack of pitching depth help the Phillies. That said, with a lineup still boasting Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and more, the Phillies should wield enough talent to regularly win games, provided their starting pitchers likewise perform as anticipated and their bullpen gets healthy. But alas, their vaunted offense has failed to live up to expectations.
So where do the true expectations lie? The Phillies entered the season with hopes of winning the division and making the playoffs. Injuries and lackluster starting pitching have stymied the Phillies ability to runaway with the division, however, at least early on. But who’s fault are the lofty expectations? Do they rest with the players, the manager or the general manager?
As discussed above, while the players have yet to fully play up to expectations, they have led and continue to lead the division. The manager, Gabe Kapler, despite his ups-and-downs, cannot make the players perform, nor could he have predicted the array of injuries that would befall hits ball club. As the coach, he can only scheme and make adjustments. Kapler has been much better this year in trusting his players, and having the ability to start the same eight players every night (up until the McCutchen injury) has been beneficial towards Kapler’s success. Where the brunt of expectations lie then is with general manager Matt Klentak. Klentak used owner John Middleton’s wallet to add Harper, McCutchen and reliever David Robertson, and was further able to navigate trades to acquire catcher JT Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Bruce. With the rash of recent injuries the team has suffered, Klentak must now navigate the trade market again and find himself a lead off hitter/center fielder.
Kapler has the team on the right path. A significant test is directly on the horizon, however, as the Phillies go down to Atlanta to square off against the Braves, who recently signed starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel. Kapler will only be able to work with what he has, accounting for injuries and performance. Which brings us back to Matt Klentak. The Phillies will go as far as their general manager will enable, through additional trades and acquisitions. All in all, however, and injuries be damned, the Fightin’s have a fighters chance to win the NL East and make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.