One thing that Gabe Kapler has made abundantly clear in his first year of managing the Philadelphia Phillies is that he believes in his young team—even when fans do not. After five consecutive losing seasons, a cynical Philly fan base didn’t expect much coming into 2018. They were particularly critical of Kapler and his coaching style. But powering through an overwhelming lack of support in the first months of the season, Kapler kept morale high, and by the All-Star break, the Phillies sat atop their division. With defense so atrocious, a bullpen so unreliable, and starting pitching and hitting so inconsistent, Phillies fans often asked how is this a first place team? I believe Kapler deserves some credit for the new culture he created for the team. But if Kapler’s unfailing confidence in his players sent one message, General Manager Matt Klentak’s post All-Star break roster moves seemed to send another.
On July 27, the Phillies acquired Asdrúbal Cabrera from the Mets. Since then, Klentak has added three more position players in Wilson Ramos, Justin Bour, and José Bautista and two relievers in Luis Avilán and Aaron Loup. And since then, the Phillies have lost 11 series, tied two, and won only one. After claiming Bautista off waivers, Klentak made a statement about his aggressive roster moves: “We have added five players in the past few weeks that we feel have shored up our most pressing needs.” But is it possible that adding these veteran bats served the opposite of its intended purpose and spoiled the young team’s chemistry? It has definitely caused uncertainty about some of the players’ day-to-day roles. During the recent streak of series losses, Kapler has experimented with several different lineups and the struggling Bautista has played often, as has Cabrera.
In a video for NBC Sports Philadelphia, Kapler addressed the situation of having ten different lineups in ten days. He said, “I’m not sure that consistency of lineup leads to good results all the time…A lot of the ones that have been mixed up the most are the ones that are also the most successful.” He went on to cite the success of teams like the Dodgers and the Astros that use similar strategies. But being the streaky and unpredictable team they are, consistency may be exactly what the Phillies need. More consistency may be the key to making the needed adjustments and working out the kinks. And while Ramos has had success since joining the Phillies, the other additions haven’t done much to impress. Perhaps management should have put more faith in the rest of their young position players as Kapler had done for the first half of the season. For this unyielding faith seemed to lend to the Phillies’ success.
The Phillies have 17 games left to play, and while they’ve managed to stay in second place in the NL East, they have fallen to seven and a half games out of first, behind a hot Braves team. They will play the Braves six times in these last 17 games, though at this point, a turnaround seems unlikely.