Was Phillies' fall to fourth place a gut punch? Gabe Kapler offers his big-picture view

Was Phillies' fall to fourth place a gut punch? Gabe Kapler offers his big-picture view

SAN FRANCISCO — You may have noticed that the Phillies slipped into fourth place in the National League East late Saturday night.

It was a sobering reminder of just how badly things have gone for this team over the last couple of months. 

The Phils were in first place in the division on June 11.

They ended May at 33-24 and were three games up in the division.

Since then they were 27-33 entering Sunday night’s game against the Giants.

A win Sunday night will put the Phils in a tie in the standings with the New York Mets. The Mets were once languishing in fourth place in the division, but a surge of 15 wins in 16 games allowed them to overtake the Phillies for third place in the division on Saturday night.

The Mets also overtook the Phillies in the wild-card race on Saturday.

There was something jarring about seeing the Mets pass the Phillies in the division standings on Saturday. The Mets, after all, were considered dead a month ago. Their manager, Mickey Callaway, was a candidate to be fired, not crowned NL manager of the year. He will receive consideration for that award if his team keeps this up.

Falling into fourth place was not as jarring to Phillies manager Gabe Kapler as it was to some. Kapler is a levelheaded practitioner of perspective. For him, getting run over by the No. 7 train was not the gut punch some might expect.

“There’s so much time between now and the end of September,” Kapler said before Sunday’s game. “And one of the things that we saw, and that is really important to point out, is that at the beginning of the season, for the first month of the season, the baseball world was actively talking about the Washington Nationals (who now lead the NL wild-card race) having no chance to go to the postseason. They were left for dead. And then when we had the last couple of series against the Mets, the same thing was said about them.

“There’s an ebb and a flow to this sport and they can come in six- or eight-week stretches. So I think, under the circumstances, our job, our responsibility, both as a leadership group and players in the clubhouse, is to say, ‘Wait a second, we’ve got seven weeks to go, that’s a lot of time.’ There’s a lot of ability to pass other people in the standings during that time period. So that’s how I feel.

“I think there’s a healthy balance between urgency and having a clear big-picture approach and we try to strike that balance on a daily basis.”

Kapler’s concern on Sunday was not the standings or the Mets.

“We have the Giants today,” he said. “I promise you I am not thinking about the standings. We’re thinking about the Giants.

“You can't think about anything but today’s game. There’s too much at stake and this game takes too much concentration.”

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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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 add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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