Since the Philadelphia Phillies last postseason appearance in 2011, the club’s suffered through quite a bit of losing – 627 losses to be exact. On paper, 2018 – when the Phillies went 80-82 – shouldn’t have been one of the more frustrating seasons. But considering the club entered August in first place in the National League East, 11 games above .500, it took a tumultuous finish to the season for the Phillies to end the 2018 season with a non-winning record for the seventh consecutive campaign.
That frustration, despite what some suggested at the time, wasn’t just felt by the fanbase.
During the final weekend of the season, the Phillies played a meaningless series against the Atlanta Braves, who had already cliched the National League East title. Carlos Santana, who was the Phillies primary first baseman in 2018, says he used a bat to dismantle a clubhouse television early in that series, because he alleges players were playing the video game “Fortnite” during games.
“I see a couple players — I don’t want to say names — they play video games during the game,” Santana told ESPN‘s Jeff Passan. “We come and lose too many games, and I feel like they weren’t worried about it. [They] weren’t respecting their teammates or coaches or the staff or the [front] office. It’s not my personality. But I’m angry because I want to make it good.”
Jake Arrieta – who, like Santana, was signed by the Phillies ahead of the 2018 season – doesn’t deny that a television was smashed by Santana. He doesn’t, however, believe that any of his teammates were actually playing video games during any games.
“There is some untruth to the story, some things that were not portrayed correctly,” Arrieta said Tuesday to the collective media, which included Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I don’t believe that guys were playing video games during the game. That’s something that I would not allow and a majority of the guys on the team would not allow. There was a lot of video-game playing and I was a part of it, too, but well in advance of the game — and that was something that we bonded over. It brought us close together and it was something we had in common. It was fun. But as far as during the game, and I’ve talked to a bunch of our guys, I do not believe that was taking place.”
In Passan’s story, he suggests Santana damaged the television sometime on Sept. 28, a day in which the Phillies lost 10-2 to the Braves. That was their ninth consecutive loss. Prior to the Braves arriving at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies had been swept in consecutive four-game series. The first of those four games series were in Atlanta, the series where the Braves clinched the division title. The second series was even uglier, with the Colorado Rockies outscoring the Phillies 39-7 in a four-game set at Coors Field.
Whether anyone played Fortnite during the game – or just too close to the game for the liking of some – second-year manager Gabe Kapler made clear that some new ground rules will go into effect in 2019.
“We’re going to have some boundaries in the clubhouse that are a little bit stronger,” Kapler told Salisbury early in Spring Training. “Last year, I stressed that we wanted players to be able to be themselves and to be celebrated for who they were, and we’re going to continue to stress that. At the same time, we’re going to implement systems and processes and boundaries that make it clear that we are here to work every single day.”
The Phillies, per Passan, have established a 13-player leadership council. One of the decisions they arrived at, according to Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer, was that the Phillies will “cease ping-pong, video games and other diversions one hour before first pitch.”
Of course, one of the best ways to avoid issues in the clubhouse is to win more games. Kapler was quoted in Passan’s story as saying “our clubhouse chemistry was great when we were winning.” No kidding. There was a feeling at times last summer that even though the Phillies were in first place, they were overachieving. But with the offseason that general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies had, the expectation is now for the Phillies to be among the best teams in the National League East.
Yes, the Phillies added Bryce Harper on a historic 13-year contract. But they netted two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura in a trade from the Seattle Mariners that saw the Phillies part with Santana. Passan made sure to point out that trading Santana was simply a matter of making sure Rhys Hoskins was able to move back to first base, not because of the TV incident. The Phillies replaced the offensive production and leadership qualities of Santana by signing Andrew McCutchen to a lucrative three-year contract. McCutchen’s former New York Yankees teammate David Robertson, who has extended postseason experience, will join a talented Phillies bullpen. And J.T. Realmuto, considered by many to be the best catcher in the sport, was acquired in a trade from the division-rival Miami Marlins shortly before Harper was secured.
What this story is a reminder of is the pressure facing Kapler in 2019. The Phillies have the fifth best odds in baseball to win the World Series in 2019. The front-office added an immense amount of talent this offseason, and talent that is deep in postseason experience. So a stretch like September of 2018 – when the Phillies went 8-20 – won’t be tolerated this season. And Kapler has been handed enough talent to work with in 2019 that it shouldn’t come into play – and we shouldn’t hear stories of frustrated veteran players breaking televisions.
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