Gabe Kapler believes he's the right man to continue to lead Phillies — will management agree?

Gabe Kapler believes he's the right man to continue to lead Phillies — will management agree?

WASHINGTON — It seems like just yesterday that the Phillies were trading for the best catcher in baseball and having a sun-splashed news conference in Clearwater to announce the signing of an iconic free agent, just yesterday that fans were lining up at the ticket window to be part of the excitement, just yesterday that everyone was so sure that 2019 was the year the Phillies would get back to the postseason.

Maybe next year.

The Phillies ensured themselves another baseball-free October when they suffered a 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday afternoon (see observations). That’s eight years in a row that Citizens Bank Park will go dark after the Phillies play their final game of the season Sunday afternoon against the Miami Marlins.

Tuesday afternoon's loss ended the Phillies’ faint National League wild-card hopes. They have lost five of six games and three in a row, and the combined score of those three losses — 21-4 — speaks loudly of a dead team playing out the string.

The Phils send Aaron Nola to the mound Tuesday night for the second game of the doubleheader. The Phils are winless in his last six starts. At 79-77, they need to win three of their remaining six games to have their first winning season since 2011. Back on May 29, when the Phils were 11 games over .500 and 3½ games up in the NL East, a winning season seemed like a minimal expectation for the club. Now, it’s all the Phils have left — and getting it won't be easy.

“We’re going to have plenty of time to reflect on the fact that we didn’t get to the postseason, which was the goal and the only thing that we thought about all season long,” manager Gabe Kapler said after Tuesday afternoon's loss. “And we will get to that moment of reflection. We’ve felt some sting already. I think we’ll continue to feel some sting. But we have a game to get ready for right now and that’s important. For me, try to win every baseball game. There’s a lot of pride at stake.”

Kapler is finishing up his second season as Phillies manager. His team suffered a historic collapse down the stretch last season and missed the playoffs. This season, despite acquiring All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto right before spring training, and signing Bryce Harper to a $330 million contract during spring training, the Phils suffered a midseason collapse, going from 3½ games up in the NL East to 6½ games back in a little over three weeks, then sputtered their way out of contention.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” Rhys Hoskins said. “You set out at the beginning of the year, the beginning of the offseason, spring training, whatever it may be, with the goal in mind, right? Obviously, we’ve come up short this year.”

Hoskins has struggled mightily at the plate in the second half of the season. He went 0 for 3 with a walk Tuesday afternoon. He is hitless in his last 25 at-bats and his batting average is down to .229. He is hitting .182 since the All-Star break. Hoskins was not in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s nightcap. Neither was Harper or Realmuto, who has a sore right knee.

As much as the Phillies missed a productive Hoskins in the second half of the season, he was far from the only reason the Phils came up short in the quest to make the postseason. The team endured some big injuries, especially to leadoff man Andrew McCutchen and a number of relievers, there was plenty of underperformance by the pitchers and players who stayed healthy, and the front office did not save the pitching staff by acquiring for a difference-making starter at the trade deadline.

“I think it’s a lot of things, honestly,” Hoskins said on what went wrong. “We haven’t been as consistent as a team as you would have hoped throughout the year. We pitched well throughout the year and we hit throughout the year but it never seemed to sync up for a long period of time. I guess that’s what I would pin it on.”

As the Phillies play out the final week, Kapler’s future remains an issue.

Will he be back for a third season?

Last week, general manager Matt Klentak praised the work that Kapler had done. But owner John Middleton, who is in Washington watching this series, is the difference-making bat in the hierarchy of Phillies’ off-field leadership. He spent over $400 million this winter and is not happy that his team will head home when the season ends Sunday. There has already been change on the coaching staff (hitting coach John Mallee was let go in August) and more changes will likely come. Middleton could also push for a change in the manager’s office.

Kapler was asked about how he believed missing the postseason would affect his future.

“We have games left to play,” Kapler said. “Like I said, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to reflect. I love this organization. I love this team specifically. I love working for this front office. I love working for this ownership group. And look, I’m going to manage this club as long as I can. Because I think I give us a great chance to win and I think because I care deeply about the success of this franchise.”

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

AP Images

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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