Phillies president Andy MacPhail supports Gabe Kapler and staff as the losing continues

Phillies president Andy MacPhail supports Gabe Kapler and staff as the losing continues

Before the game, Gabe Kapler talked about the importance of coming out and setting a tone for the second half of the season in the first game back from the All-Star break.

This wasn’t the kind of tone he envisioned.

The Phillies’ six-week cliff dive continued Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.

Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta gave up two runs in the second inning and the Phils, who had eight hits but just one for extra bases, had no answers for Washington starter Stephen Strasburg, who is 13-2 in his career against the Phils.

“It’s certainly not the way we wanted to start the second half,” Kapler said. “I also recognize that it’s one game.”

The slide has been going on for a lot longer than one game.

The loss was the Phils’ 22nd in the last 36 games as they have dropped from first place in the National League East to third.

Meanwhile, the Nationals, who once trailed the Phillies by 10 games in the division, are 29-11 since May 24. They hold a 1 ½ game lead on the Phils for second place. Atlanta, which played a late game in San Diego, entered the night leading the division by six games over the Nats.

“I think as a team, as a group, when you don’t pitch well, when you don’t play ball well, when you don’t hit well, you’re not going to win games,” Bryce Harper said. “So I think as a team, as an organization, the guys that we do have in here, of course, we should be winning ball games.

“But like I said, if you don’t hit well, you don’t get timely hitting or any of that kind of stuff, you’re not going to win games.”

The continued slide has put Kapler and his coaching staff under the heat lamp.

Before the game, club president Andy MacPhail was asked about the job security of Kapler and his staff.

“To me, honestly, I hate to even dignify that question with an answer,” MacPhail said. “We're in the postseason today, if the season was over. To suggest for a second that there's something lacking at the leadership level, coaching level, I just don't believe that.”

The Phillies (47-44) are in the midst of their seven most important days of the season — a three-game visit from Washington followed by a four-game visit from the Dodgers, who own the best record in baseball.

MacPhail does not believe the Phillies are close enough to a World Series to ship off what prospects the team does have in high-profile trades (see story), but the club could still take on high-salaried players and make other deals if it can turn things around in the short term. It won’t be easy against the Nationals and Dodgers.

“That’s up to them,” Harper said of the front office’s approach to the trade deadline. “That’s their job to do. It’s our job to play good baseball and make them push their hand a little bit if we can do that.”

The offense and bullpen have had their difficult stretches — and the offense failed again Friday night — but starting pitching is this team’s biggest weakness and need. Pivetta lasted just five innings, threw 87 pitches and gave up three runs.

“I just didn’t think he was able to execute enough pitches to go deep into the game for us,” Kapler said.

Pivetta is 1-7 with a 10.06 ERA against the Nationals in his career.

“I’ve struggled against them a lot,” Pivetta said. “But even though I gave up three runs, it’s a ton less than what I’ve given up this year so there are a lot of positives I can take away from that. It could have turned into a much worse baseball game.”

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Joe Girardi was in Philadelphia Monday for his second interview with the Phillies. Will he be the next manager? As this process has played out, it's looked more and more likely.

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If true, it would make sense that of the Phillies' three top decision-makers, John Middleton is the most pro-Girardi. He has to recognize that Girardi has an extremely high approval rating in this city already. Girardi is the overwhelming fan preference. An organization should not base a decision around fan preference, but the Phillies have shown that they do consider it a piece to the puzzle.

A few weeks back, we ranked the eight managerial openings in attractiveness now and over the next three years. The Mets were first but not by a significant margin over the Phillies. They're in slightly better shape with Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso and Noah Syndergaard, but how many more years will anyone other than deGrom be in that rotation? Syndergaard trade rumors have persisted, Zack Wheeler is a free agent after the World Series and Marcus Stroman is a free agent after 2020.

The Phillies have also been more willing to spend over the last decade than the Mets. Their average end-of-season payroll from 2011-14 was more than $171 million. Last year, their opening day payroll was $140 million and all signs point to more spending this winter.

In all four of those years earlier in the decade (2011-14), the Phillies ended the season with a payroll higher than the Mets have ever carried. If you're Girardi and your two best offers are jobs in major markets that involve immense pressure, wouldn't you rather be with the ownership group you trust more to spend?

The Phillies also have the money to pay Girardi himself — another obviously important factor. Manager salaries don't count against the luxury tax. As Jim Salisbury pointed out on our At the Yard podcast Monday, the next manager's salary might cost the same as a middle reliever. At that point, what is an extra couple million if it means firmly landing the most appealing veteran manager on the market who has the qualities the top of the organization and vast majority of the fan base want?

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At the Yard podcast: Zeroing in on Joe Girardi, free agency, 2020 outfield


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