PITTSBURGH — Back in spring training, Gabe Kapler described himself as a relentless communicator. More than three months into the season, that has proven true. Be it in the clubhouse, the weight room, his office or on the field during batting practice, Kapler is always having little powwows with players and coaches.
The Phillies’ successful first half — they entered Friday night’s game against the Pirates at 10 games over .500 and just a game out of first place in the NL East — has created a theme for Kapler’s recent conversations with players and coaches.
“The themes right now are we’re in a position to win the National League East and make a run at that,” Kapler said. “If we take care of our business and do various things, we are going to be excited about our prospects come September. Those conversations are ongoing. They're always being had. They’re being had in various forms, but we’re asking people to take part in incubating those discussions.
“In spring training, we talked as a group, the players and our leadership group, and we said we expect to be a postseason club. I believed that then. I believe it now. We do indeed have the athletes, the horses, the leaders, the connectors, the teammates, to be a playoff team.”
With the trade deadline arriving at the end of the month, the front office is looking to upgrade the roster. A bullpen move seems quite possible. Third base is an area the team would like to bolster. And, of course, Manny Machado looms out there (see story).
What does Kapler think the team needs?
“My job is to work with the players we have in the clubhouse right now,” he said. “Everything we need right now to compete is right here. If all of our young players take these small steps that we’ve talked about since spring training, theoretically we’re a better team in the second half and we’re in a position to strike and make the postseason. I trust the work that (general manager) Matt Klentak and our front office is doing. That includes examining the landscape and looking for ways to upgrade.”
It would take a significant package of young talent to get Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. (And don't buy all the July posturing, the Phillies are in on him.) Over the last couple of days, pitcher Zach Eflin’s name was thrown around in reports. It’s difficult to imagine the Phillies dealing a 24-year-old starting pitcher who is under control and seems to be putting it together at the major-league level. (Eflin is 6-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts.)
“I don’t think we are where we are today if not for Zach Eflin’s performance in the last five weeks,” Kapler said. “He’s been incredibly valuable for us.”