The Phillies capped off a tradition of limping to the finish line Sunday when they completed their latest dud of a season with a 5-4 loss to the Marlins in Miami.
The Phils ended up losing two of three in the series and finished the season 82-80.
Despite posting a winning record for the first time since 2011, the season was a huge disappointment for the Phillies. They had a top six payroll of $205 million, serious candidates for the National League MVP and Cy Young Awards and still saw their postseason drought reach 10 years, longest in the NL and second-longest in Major League Baseball.
A postseason berth was within the Phillies’ reach in the final week of this season and last.
Both times, the team faded.
The Phils entered this final week of the season trailing the Atlanta Braves by 2½ games. They went to Atlanta for a big showdown and scored just six runs in three games as they were swept by a Braves team that won its fourth straight NL East title.
“I think we’re all a little frustrated with the way it ended,” manager Joe Girardi said after Sunday’s finale. “Going into this road trip, we had a chance, and going into this final month, we had a chance. But we weren’t able to get it done and that leaves a bad taste.”
Last season, shortened to 60 games by the pandemic, the Phils went down to the final day with a chance to make an extended playoff field. They were eliminated from contention in a 5-0 loss to Tampa Bay, which swept a three-game series from the Phils.
Here’s how the Phils have finished the last four seasons:
2021: Lost 6 of their final 7
2020: Lost 7 of their final 8
2019: Lost 9 of their final 12
2018: Lost 9 of their final 11
Club president Dave Dombrowski, who joined the club in December, will have a full offseason to make improvements this winter and this team needs lots of them.
The Phils could use a leadoff man, a center fielder, a run-producing left fielder, a defensively dependable shortstop, back-end starting rotation depth and bullpen help, particularly at the back end and in the closer spot.
That’s a long list.
“Improving in all areas is something we need to do and we will continue to address in the winter and spring training,” Girardi said. “We’ll put our heads together.
“I think there’s a lot of good pieces here and I think there’s things that will happen in the offseason that will make us a better team.”
Girardi declined to discuss any particular areas of need.
“There will be a lot of discussion over the next couple weeks,” he said. “I’m not ready to talk about it and that’s more for Dave and Sam (Fuld, the general manager) anyway."
Dombrowski and his aides will have to decide whether to give Alec Bohm another shot at third base after he struggled defensively (and offensively) or possibly move him across the diamond to first base and use Rhys Hoskins as a designated hitter, if that position is added to the NL. The braintrust will also have to consider what to do with shortstop Didi Gregorius, a defensive liability in 2021 who is owed over $15 million next season.
Entering Sunday’s season finale, Gregorius’ 18 errors were fourth-most among NL shortstops. According to Fangraphs data, he ranked 27th with minus-10 defensive runs saved among 28 big-league shortstops who played at least 550 innings at the position.
Bohm ranked 25th out of 26 third basemen with minus-11 runs saved. He made 15 errors, tied for second among big-league third basemen, in just 102 games.
The struggles of Gregorius and Bohm contributed to the team’s firing of infield coach Juan Castro before Sunday’s finale.
“I think defensively, at times, we struggled this year,” Girardi said in the understatement of the season. “We all have to own up to that. It’s all of our fault. But this is a performance-based business and sometimes when you don’t get the most out of players or players don’t perform, things happen.”
The club also fired hitting coach Joe Dillon.
So add filling those two jobs to the team’s offseason to-do list.
“Joe worked his butt off,” Girardi said. “This is a performance-based business and it happens to all of us. We feel we need to do better as an offense and sometimes coaches are the ones who have to take what is given. I’ve been let go a couple of times and it’s not easy, but Joe is a good man. We all loved him and I think he’ll land on his feet.”
Dillon exited with one feather in his cap. Bryce Harper finished the season hitting .309 with 35 homers, 84 RBIs and a majors-best 1.044 OPS. He could be in line to win his second NL MVP when the voting is announced next month.
“Hopefully I’ll be talking to you guys in November,” he told reporters at the end of a Zoom news conference Sunday.