Phillies seek answers after collapsing down the stretch
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — It took the Philadelphia Phillies a little longer than usual to arrive at a familiar spot.
After leading their division with the second-best record in the National League one week into August, the Phillies went 16-33 over the final 49 games and finished with a losing record (80-82) for the sixth straight season.
There are several reasons for the collapse, and the Phillies will enter the offseason with plenty of questions as they try to reshape the roster into one that can contend for a full season. Philadelphia could try to land a big-name free agent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado — or even both.
"There's been some really important answers but there's things we have to address this offseason and future offseasons," general manager Matt Klentak said Monday.
Gabe Kapler's first season as manager was adventurous. His unconventional approach drew a ton of scrutiny and criticism in Philadelphia, especially after the team fell apart.
But Klentak is sticking by his analytics-minded manager and his new-school style.
"His energy, his attitude, his work ethic and his willingness to adjust are about as good as they can be and I think we made enormous strides this year," Klentak said. "We were projected to win 74-76 games. That team is not going to the playoffs if you play traditional baseball. When those are your expectations, that's a good year to try things."
Kapler, who found a positive spin on everything throughout the season, is optimistic — no surprise — about 2019.
"If everybody takes a small step forward in their development we'll win a lot of baseball games," Kapler said.
Here's some things to know about the Phillies heading into the offseason:
GOT AN ACE: Right-hander Aaron Nola established himself as a legitimate No. 1 starter by having one of the best seasons in franchise history. He was 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. His 224 strikeouts were the second-most ever by a Phillies pitcher age 25 or younger. He joined Grover Cleveland Alexander (1915) as the only Phillies pitchers to strike out 200 or more batters and hold opponents to a batting average of .200 or lower. His 0.976 WHIP was the fifth-lowest in team history.
REST OF ROTATION: Right-hander Jake Arrieta (10-11, 3.96) isn't going anywhere because of his big contract. Fellow righties Zach Eflin (11-8, 4.36), Vince Velasquez (9-12, 4.85) and Nick Pivetta (7-14, 4.77) showed flashes but lacked consistency. It's likely at least one of the trio returns and all three could be back.
CLOSING TIME: Rookie Seranthony Dominguez (2.95 ERA, 16 for 20 in save opportunities, 74 Ks in 58 innings) struggled after an outstanding start and then finished strong. Hector Neris lost his closer's job, got demoted and was excellent down the stretch. Several relievers had up-and-down seasons. The Phillies like their bullpen depth.
INCONSISTENT OFFENSE: The Phillies finished last in average (.234) and were 22nd in runs. More hitters regressed as coaches emphasized launch angle instead of contact. Six players hit at least 15 homers but only two teams struck out more. Left fielder/first baseman Rhys Hoskins (.246, 34 homers, 96 RBIs) will be part of the nucleus going forward. Catcher Jorge Alfaro (.262, 10, 37) and infielder Scott Kingery (.226, 8, 35) will get another chance to prove they can be regulars. But there aren't many other guarantees. Outfielder Odubel Herrera had a career-high in homers (22) and career-low in average (.255). Same for second baseman Cesar Hernandez (.253, 15, 60). Third baseman Maikel Franco (.270, 22, 68) and outfielder Nick Williams (.256, 17, 50) aren't locks to be back.
CHASING STARS: The Phillies will make a strong push for Harper and Machado. They spent big bucks on Arrieta ($75 million, three years), first baseman Carlos Santana ($60 million, three years) and right-handed relievers Pat Neshek (2.59 ERA, five saves) and Tommy Hunter (3.80 ERA, four saves) last offseason and got varying results. Ownership has deep pockets and a need to improve attendance. Harper or Machado or both would excite fans and significantly upgrade the lineup.