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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Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Signs point toward meaningful MLB news coming this week. 

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced that teams could return to their facilities to train.

In Tampa, Tropicana Field was reopened for limited workouts and more than a dozen players participated. The Astros have announced that Minute Maid Park is open for workouts, too. The Angels' spring training complex is open to all players on their 40-man roster.

MLB and the players' association are scheduled to meet today. The players union has, so far, been unwilling to accept another pay cut on top of what it thought agreed to in March with prorated pay. Team owners have been adamant that it is not financially viable to pay players a half-season's salary with no fans in stands. From their side, this has less to do with 2020 profits than it does future finances.

Will they reach a compromise? They have to. We saw again over the weekend how many Americans are starved for sports when 5.8 million tuned into the Tiger Woods-Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson-Tom Brady golf match, a number slightly higher than The Last Dance received. 

MLB didn't need any more evidence that returning was crucial, but there it was. All parties feel a sense of urgency because the league doesn't want baseball to dip further in popularity, and the players want to play and get paid. If the sport were to disappear for a period of 18 months, it will fall off the radar for some/many casual fans. And a portion of die-hards will be so frustrated by the sides' inability to come to a financial agreement at a time when so many are suffering physically, mentally and financially and craving the escape of sports that even their viewership habits could change. 

MLB cannot afford that.

The goal, when this is worked out, is still to hold Spring Training II in mid-June and open the season at the beginning of July. The closer we get to those dates without an agreement, the less likely it becomes that the regular season could start that soon. Players will need two or three weeks to prepare.

It also looks increasingly likely that teams will stay within their own divisions. There would still be a good amount of interleague play between teams in close proximity to one another (think Yankees and Orioles for the Phillies), but the three-division, 10-team format idea is not as necessary if teams can play in their home states as opposed to just Florida, Texas and Arizona.

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The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

Dave Raymond, the OG Phillie Phanatic, was alarmed when he read the news earlier this week.

No Mascots!

Has Major League Baseball lost its mind?

Or worse, its sense of humor?

Don’t misunderstand, Raymond, the man who breathed life into that big ball of green fur from the time it debuted in 1978 until 1993, is all for ridding the world of this nasty coronavirus beast. He’s all for social distancing, frequent handwashing and everything else that goes with protecting folks from getting sick. He knows how serious this thing is.

And that’s why he’s hoping that MLB won’t follow through on its plan to ban mascots from games when and if the sport comes back with a proposed 82-game schedule in July.

“I understand that only essential personnel can physically be at the games,” Raymond said Friday. “But I would argue that in these serious times mascots are more essential than ever.”

After shedding the Phanatic’s fur and handing the keys to the ATV to the equally brilliant Tom Burgoyne 26 years ago, Raymond dedicated his professional life to the concept of fun. It’s serious business. Raymond has owned and operated companies that help professional teams and college sports programs develop mascots/brands. He has trained mascots and helped found a mascot Hall of Fame. His current focus is motivational speaking. Everything is centered around the Power of Fun — which just so happens to be the title of his book — and how it can make a difference in people’s lives.

In these trying times when lives have been lost, when people have gotten sick and when the world has wrapped a mask around its face and gone into quarantine, Raymond is preaching louder than ever about the importance of a little fun and the respite it can offer in difficult times.

“It’s a scientific fact that laughing helps a person emotionally and physically,” he said.

That’s why he believes mascots need to have their place in baseball’s return.

“Mascots are a reflection of the fans’ heart and soul and part of the reason fans get emotionally connected to their teams,” he said. “During this time, we need the connection they provide more than ever. I understand that fans can’t be in the stadiums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still engage them through mascots and character brands. Baseball needs to be creative and carve out space for entertainment.”

Raymond proposes that mascots be featured on television broadcasts when the game returns. It would be kind of funny to see a camera pan over to the Phanatic sitting all alone in section 305. Maybe even have Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely play in the background.

If the Phanatic absolutely, positively cannot be in the ballpark, then he could be featured through technology and social media. Raymond proposed live streaming the Phanatic, wherever he might be, watching the game. Run it across social media platforms and have fans follow along. Raymond also proposed prerecording videos that could feature fans playing catch with the final throw landing in the Phanatic’s glove as he stands on the field. Another idea: Replace the Phanatic’s middle-of-the-fifth-inning dance skit with a live Zoom call on Phanavision and let fans log in. He’d like to see this stuff in every major league city.

“I understand it’s safety first, but there’s still room to lighten things up a little,” Raymond said.

Raymond is sharing this message with mascots who have been sidelined all over the country, from the major leagues to the minor leagues to the colleges. He has personally tutored many of them. They are his friends. Some have been furloughed from their jobs.

“It’s really devastating,” he said.

On Tuesday, Raymond will host a Zoom webinar for mascots and officials from teams, leagues and colleges that he has worked with over the years. It’s titled What The Heck Should My Mascot Do Now?

For Dave Raymond, the answer is simple:

Follow the rules, but by all means, be creative, embrace technology and mascot on.

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