Phillies stuck in the mud, figuratively and literally

Phillies stuck in the mud, figuratively and literally

There have been times in recent days when it has looked like the Phillies’ season was stuck in the mud. So the unexpected, and probably avoidable, events of Monday night served as an apt metaphor for what has happened to the team lately.

The Phillies' scheduled game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park was postponed because of poor field conditions. The grounds crew worked feverishly for several hours – even using blowtorches in an effort to dry the soggy infield dirt – before the decision to postpone was made about 7:15 p.m.

The two teams will play a traditional doubleheader Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. Monday’s scheduled starter Jake Arrieta will get the ball in one of the games and Nick Pivetta in the other. The Phillies, who entered Monday trailing Atlanta by 4½ games in the NL East, are coming off a 2-4 road trip to Miami and New York and they are 6-14 since August 18.

The decision to postpone was made by the umpires in conjunction with Major League Baseball. Players on both sides agreed with the decision. Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said the infield dirt was like “pudding” or “cake batter.” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who was on the field with the umpires and Phillies officials before the decision was made, also agreed with it.

“The conversations on the field were very good,” Rizzo said. “It was all about player safety and the integrity of the field. The field was soft. We didn't want anybody getting hurt on the Phillies or the Nationals. It was deemed too big a risk to put the players in.”

Max Scherzer and Rhys Hoskins, the union reps on both sides, were on the field before the decision was made.

“The dirt, it was spongy, it would literally give out,” Scherzer said. “And that was just us acting like we were going to run. The moment you put any weight on the ball of your foot, the dirt would just give out. There were parts of the infield they said could get better and when we tested those areas we both looked at each other and thought, ‘This is going to get torn up when guys are going 100 percent,' and you can't have any one spot out there because that's how you get injured. We've seen that in the past.”

Late in the 2016 season, Wilson Ramos, then with the Nationals, suffered a serious knee injury on a wet field. He played in just 64 games the next season. Ramos is now with the Phillies.

“Ramos, two years ago, blew out his ACL,” Scherzer said. “There isn't a player in here that can hold themselves accountable if something like that happened."

Hoskins agreed. The risk was too great.

“We didn't feel safe as players,” he said. “I think a big thing was we didn't want people compensating for what the surface was and potentially having an injury that way.”

It is not unusual to have a rainout. It is unusual to have a “mud out.” According to baseball researcher Dave Smith of Retrosheet, this was the first game postponed because of wet grounds since a game at Milwaukee on Sept. 21, 1987.

So what happened?

According to Howard Smith, the Phillies vice president of business affairs, the field was not covered during Friday night’s heavy rainstorm and no drying occurred during a wet weekend.

“The field wasn’t tarped on Friday night because we were supposed to get only a small amount of rain,” Smith said. “If you tarp the field 24 hours a day, the field will turn brown and it will die. It’s an on-and-off situation. We didn’t tarp it Friday night. In retrospect, had I known it was going to be this much rain, we would’ve tarped it. We had it covered the rest of the weekend, but the damage was done and we’re just playing catch up. The rain this morning didn’t help us because we weren’t able to deal with it.”

The Phillies had spent the previous week on the road. Players began arriving at Citizens Bank Park early Monday afternoon. They weren’t there long when word started circulating the game could be in jeopardy. A couple of players were incredulous that the field was in such poor shape.

Two hours after the game was postponed, more than 20 members of the grounds crew continued to work on drying out the infield dirt. They used rakes, drying agent and blowtorches. At some point, the field was to be covered, but here’s the hitch: Tuesday’s forecast is not good. The Phillies have 20 games to play, 20 games to catch the Braves, and the calendar is shrinking.

More on the Phillies

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

USA Today Images

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

When the news broke that he had been let go as Phillies pitching coach earlier this week, Rick Kranitz's cell phone started dinging.

And dinging.

And dinging.

From all over the country and Latin America, stunned Phillies pitchers sent well wishes.

"I heard from all of them," Kranitz said Friday from his home in Arizona. "It meant a lot. It was nice to know they were thinking of me.

"That's the thing I'm going to miss the most, the relationships I've built with these guys. The players are the ones who do it but I was always happy to be able to guide them through the good times, the tough times, the emotional times. I've been in the game for 40 years and the relationships have always been what means the most to me."

Kranitz, 60, was pushed aside in favor of Chris Young. Kranitz had been with the Phillies for three seasons, first as bullpen coach, then as assistant pitching coach and finally as head pitching coach in 2018. Teams don't typically let coaches go in mid-November, particularly after saying seven weeks earlier that the entire coaching staff would be returning. In this case, Young, 37, had received interest from other clubs and rather than risk losing him the Phillies promoted him from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach. Kranitz was told that he was free to seek employment with other organizations, though the Phillies will still pay him through 2019.

The whole thing seems cold, but Kranitz is taking the high road. He's a big boy. He's been around — he'd previously been pitching coach in Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee — and understands the business of baseball and these days the business of baseball is more new school than old school. That doesn't mean it's better. It's just the way it is for now.

"I was surprised and very disappointed when I first got the news," Kranitz said. "I'd built a lot of good relationships with this group. I believe in every one of these guys and I believe the future is bright for the Phillies. I wanted to see it through."

The news that Kranitz had been let go broke on Wednesday. That night, Aaron Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. For three years, Kranitz had been influential in Nola's development.

"I was so proud of that young man," Kranitz said. "He deserves everything he gets. He's a class individual and the Phillies are lucky to have such a special young pitcher — not just a pitcher but a person. I could not have been prouder. I'm thankful to have gotten the chance to watch him, grateful to be able to see special times."

Kranitz began his pro career as a pitcher in the Brewers' system in 1979. He would like to continue to work and surely some team will benefit from his wisdom. But in the meantime, he intends to spend his unexpected free time focusing on the people who have always been there for him, his wife Kelly and their four children.

"We have four grandkids and one on the way in March," Kranitz said. "So I'll be around for the birth and that makes me happy. 

"This game has been great to me. The Phillies were great to me. It didn't end great but my experience with the city and the people in that organization was great. Now it's time to shift my focus to my family and give back to them."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

AP Images

What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

Phillies owner John Middleton recently reiterated what he's been saying for years: The Phillies will spend aggressively this offseason.

This time, he was a bit more colorful about it.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told USA Today at the owners meetings this week. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

"We just prefer not to be completely stupid."


You know the usual suspects: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the Phillies' needs go beyond offense and there is a top-tier left-hander on the market who could boost this rotation (see story).

Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals, so it's safe to assume he's expecting a deal closer to the $350-400 million range, one with an annual value in the neighborhood of $40 million.

It's hard to gauge where Machado's price tag will be and whether his October comments affected his market. Will he get slightly less than Harper because of it? Will he get more than Harper because of the position(s) he plays?

Including guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration figures and the raises due to pre-arbitration players, the Phillies' 2019 payroll is in the vicinity of $110 million right now. But that figure is cut in half in 2020 and next-to-nothing in 2021, when the only two guaranteed deals on the Phillies' books belong to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Aaron Nola will have to be paid sometime before 2022, and Rhys Hoskins before 2024, but the Phils still have so much wiggle room. 

Team president Andy MacPhail has been sure to remind Middleton and others that there is baseball to be played beyond 2019. But it's not often a free-agent class has headliners like this. 

The Phils could feasibly afford both Harper and Machado, but things would get extremely tricky down the road when Harper, Machado, Nola and Hoskins are combining to make about $120 million per year between the four of them. Those are the kinds of long-term issues this front office has to consider and will consider.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies