Are 23-16 Phillies for real? Klentak talks sustainability, trade deadline

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Are 23-16 Phillies for real? Klentak talks sustainability, trade deadline

Two seasons ago, in Matt Klentak's first year on the job, the Phillies were 24-17 in mid-May. 

Within a month, they were 10 games under .500 and eventually finished 71-91.

Fast-forward two years and here the Phillies are again, seven games over .500 in mid-May.

But anyone who's watched this team should know that's where the comparisons end. That team's ace was Jeremy Hellickson. Adam Morgan made 21 starts. Jeanmar Gomez was the closer. David Hernandez and Andrew Bailey were setup men. Just two regulars — Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez — had OBPs higher than .306.

The 2018 Phillies haven't fluked their way to this record like the '16 club did with all those early, low-scoring, one-run wins.

These Phils have two aces, two legitimate middle-of-the-order bats in Rhys Hoskins and Herrera, and another fearsome hitter in Carlos Santana who after a few hot weeks is well on his way to doing what he does every season — hit 25 homers with an OBP in the upper-.300s.

"I remember that well," Klentak said Tuesday of May 2016. "We were often winning one-run games and wondering how we were doing it, but it was fun. I think there are a few differences between that team and this team. I think, No. 1, this team's starting pitching has really been impressive through the first quarter of the season in their ability to throw strikes, in their ability to miss bats and in their ability to induce weak contact. 

"On top of that, I think, in the bullpen, there is a lot of depth on this team. And when you look back to the '16 club, I think we had at that stage three guys that were throwing the ball pretty well and we were relying on them pretty heavily in those one-run games. 

"But I think the way this team is evolving, whether we are winning a close game or losing a close game or it's a blowout, we're able to put a good arm on the mound that's delivered good results. And I think our offense is really starting to click now, too. One of the things about the '16 team was that we were winning a bunch of low-scoring games. We weren't scoring a lot. And this club, the offense is really starting to find their rhythm right now."

Some look to the quarter-pole as the first checkpoint in an MLB season. Others consider it Memorial Day. By the holiday, we will have a clearer picture of where this team is, not only because of the Phils' upcoming schedule but also because the Nationals are rounding into form and the Braves have remained hot.

The Phillies host Atlanta May 21-23 and then go 102 games without seeing the Braves again. That makes the three-game series even more important than usual because it's a chance to improve while hurting the Braves. Aside from that, it would be nice for the Phils to not sit and think for months that Atlanta has their number.

The Phillies are currently on a mid-90s-win pace. Does Klentak think this is sustainable?

"With so many young players on this team, that's a hard thing to project," he said.
"What we have seen through the first 40 games or so is that we have had some players take big steps forward. Not all of them, we haven't batted 1.000, but Odubel's batting .360, (Jorge) Alfaro's developed into a real presence behind the plate. (Nick) Pivetta and (Vince) Velasquez have demonstrated that their performance can match their stuff, and our bullpen has really been solid one through eight. If we continue to get those kinds of contributions, I would expect that we'll remain competitive."

Could that mean the Phillies actually buy at the trade deadline? If they do, keep your eye on Cole Hamels. He cannot block a trade back to the Phils and would probably be open to returning here with the Rangers floundering and Hamels' having a $20 million club option next season that a team like the Phils would be more open to exercising than the Rangers.

"We're assessing how good our team is but also where we have a need. The left-handed pitching might be one area to address," Klentak said. "We're at the quarter-pole. I think it's a little early to start talking about that. There's been some light dialogue among a few teams so far but really nothing substantial, just a very-early feeling out. As we get deeper into June and July, I know that activity will pick up and we'll just have to see how we stack up when we get to that point."

Will losing deter free agents from joining Phillies? Gabe Kapler weighs in

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Will losing deter free agents from joining Phillies? Gabe Kapler weighs in

DENVER — Sometimes you look at the mounting losses and wonder why Bryce Harper would want to be part of this.

Or Manny Machado.

Or Patrick Corbin.

The Phillies will be active in this winter’s free-agent market. They have the money. They have the desire. If you know owner John Middleton, you might call it an obsession.

But lately there’s been a feeling that all the Phillies’ losing — another loss Tuesday night made it 31 in the last 46 games — coupled with the unorthodox managerial stylings of Gabe Kapler might be a turnoff to free agents.

We don’t particularly buy this narrative because 1) the signing of one or two key free agents could help turn the losing around next season and 2) in free agency it’s all about the Benjamins and the Phillies have lots of them.

Kapler, whose team led the NL East on Aug. 5, does not believe the shine has worn off the Phillies as a free-agent destination.

“I think it’s likely a more attractive destination because I think people are very aware of the resources that the Philadelphia Phillies have,” Kapler said. “I don’t think that there’s any shortage of information on how we intend to be especially competitive in 2019.

“I think it’s really important to not respond to, and when I say not respond I mean not evaluate, based on a 45-game stretch. We haven’t played good baseball for quite some time. You cannot argue with that fact. It’s unacceptable. But it’s a fact. You also cannot argue with the fact that we played very good baseball for a half-plus of the season. And finally, you can’t argue with the fact that we have tremendous resources and a very young and talented core group of players. So if you look at all of those things combined, I think you have an especially attractive destination.”

No changes on coaching staff

Kapler said his entire coaching staff would return next season. All are under contract for 2019.

“I love our staff,” Kapler said. “I think they’ve done a tremendous job. They’ve worked especially hard all year long. They look out for each other and I think they are already seeking process improvement for 2019.”

The game

The Phillies gave up 10 runs for the second straight night in a 10-3 loss to the Rockies.

The Phils have lost six in a row and are 6-17 in September. They are under .500 for the first time since April 9. They had been 15 games over .500 on Aug. 5. The Phils need to win four of their remaining five games to finish with a winning record.

Odubel Herrera drove in the Phillies’ first run. He also dropped a ball in right field and did not run hard on a ground ball in the first inning. In other words, Odubel being Odubel.

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If you're waiting for Gabe Kapler to pitch a fit, keep waiting – ‘I won’t be a character’

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If you're waiting for Gabe Kapler to pitch a fit, keep waiting – ‘I won’t be a character’

DENVER — After falling flat on their faces, losing four straight games and being officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Phillies arrived in Coors Field for the first of four games with the Rockies on Monday night.

The Phils were hammered, 10-1. The defeat marked their 30th loss in 45 games and dropped them to the .500 mark for the first time since April 10 when the season was just 10 games.

An embarrassing loss like Monday night’s — coming on top of a steady wave of losses — might have caused some managers to give the boys a good ol' butt-chewing after the game. Some managers might have kicked over a chair in the clubhouse or gone off on an umpire. Anything to ramp up the urgency and send a message that what’s happening is not acceptable.

Gabe Kapler did none of this.

It’s not him. He prefers his conversations with players to be private and not for show.

“For me, the way that I personally operate, I need more than ‘sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work,’“ he said Tuesday. “That’s just my personality. I’m not flipping a coin. I’m not throwing (crap) against the wall to see what sticks. I just don’t do that. I want a reason. If I’m going to get the group together and have a conversation, I want a reason for it. I want to be very confident that it’s going to be helpful.”

Would it be?

“I don’t know,” he said.

Kapler is an amazingly aware guy. He’s plugged-in, connected, never far away from his iPad. He is social-media savvy. He knows people think he’s too positive. He knows fans want to see him pull a Larry Bowa or a Dallas Green or even a Charlie Manuel.

Not happening.

“I think, honestly, people have a hard time with it,” he said. “They want me to be that character. It’s hard. It’s not who I am. However, I think one of the things that’s been missed in this season is that I feel what people feel. I suffer with people. I am extremely, extremely competitive. I (bleeping) hate to lose. So all these things I share in common. People don’t tend to really read it on me. And I think that’s confusing for people. That’s OK.

“I read everything. I know what people think of me. I know how people are responding to me. Some of it I can do something about and I will. There are other things … First, I’m not willing to compromise my integrity to be a character. My job is to help the Philadelphia Phillies win baseball games. It’s not to be a persona. But that doesn’t mean I don’t (bleeping) feel. Yes, I promise I get mad. Yes, I promise there are conversations that get loud. I promise I pound my fist from time to time. I’m not going to do it for who. It’s not who I am.”

Kapler mentioned two of his managerial mentors, Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. He played for Francona in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series. Francona never held a team meeting that season.

“I think there’s something to my experience in that clubhouse that leads me to lead this clubhouse in a similar fashion,” Kapler said. “That’s who he was. He let the players police the clubhouse. He had some veterans that were very good at it. And when he spoke, he spoke to guys individually. That doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to do it.”

But it’s Kapler’s way.

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