In the court of public opinion, the seats under Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and hitting coach John Mallee may be getting warmer. Internally, general manager Matt Klentak says that the Phillies plan to stay the course with their current coaching staff.
After being swept by the Miami Marlins this past weekend, the Phillies have now lost seven in a row and are just one game above .500. They’ve gone 6-14 in June, which has taken them from three-and-a-half games up in the National League East on May 29 to six-and-a-half games behind the Atlanta Braves entering Monday evening’s matchup with the New York Mets.
Klentak spoke to the collective media extensively at Citizens Bank Park Monday afternoon and said he understands how frustrated fans have become about the team’s recent tailspin and why it’s led to speculation about the futures of some within the organization.
“I’m very well aware of all of the criticism right now of the manager, the coaching staff and some of the players,” Klentak told the collective media Monday, including Dave Uram of KYW NewsRadio 1060. “I’m not naive – I understand this, and I understand why it’s happening. When a team goes through a stretch like we’ve gone through in the last couple of weeks, people are going to ask a lot of questions. Fans are going to ask a lot of questions, the media is going to ask a lot of questions and we are going to ask a lot of questions of ourselves. And we’re going to look into everything that we’re doing.”
A case can be made that each of J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins has underwhelmed offensively to varying different degrees in 2019. That’s made Mallee, Kapler’s hitting coach, a target of much criticism. And speculation about Kapler’s future – both short and long-term – reached a fever pitch Sunday when Bryce Harper seemed to scoff when asked about Kapler’s suggestion of some hitters using a curveball machine ahead of the Mets series as they look to break out of a funk offensively.
Klentak, who is presiding over his fourth season as general manager of the Phillies, says that while there’s plenty of blame to go around for the Phillies collapse this month, much of the talent that made the Phillies a dark-horse World Series pick before the season is still present.
“My view right now is that the wrong thing to do is point a finger at any one person and say ‘You are the reason that this is happening.’ I do not believe that,” Klentak continued. “We have had a tough time hitting the baseball, we have had a tough time keeping the ball in the park and we have had a really tough time with the injury bug. It’s very difficult for me to say that is on any one person. What I believe is that the best thing we can do is rally together and do this together and commit to each other to get through this together. Let’s face it – this is the same team that was in first place two weeks ago. This is the same team that looked like a juggernaut for the first two weeks of the year. This is the same team that went toe-to-toe with the best teams in the National League about a month ago and that has not radically changed. Our place in the standings has changed in the last two weeks. We are not playing good baseball, that is stating the obvious, but to lose faith in our players, to lose faith in our staff, is the wrong thing to do at this time. We are proud to stick to these guys and rally together.”
This entire exchange was started when Howard Eskin of SportsRadio 94 WIP asked Klentak if he would commit to Kapler being the team’s manager for the remainder of the season. Eskin followed up when not given a direct response pertaining to Kapler.
“Gabe Kapler is our manager, and our staff is our staff. I’ve been part of teams that have made in-season staff changes, to I understand how that can happen, but right now, I do not think that is the right way for us to go.”
So at least for the 85 remaining regular season games, Kapler will be the Phillies manager?
“That’s the plan.”
Plans, of course, can change. If the Phillies are swept by the Mets – who saw their manager and one of their starting pitchers get in a verbal altercation with a beat reporter Sunday – the Phillies losing streak will be at 11. Who knows what their mathematical playoff prospects will look like at that point, but the list of teams that have had 11-game losing streaks and still reached the postseason may be non-existent. By saying “at this time” and “right now” Klentak left the organization some wiggle room to make a change – be it at manager, hitting coach or elsewhere – if things continue to spiral.
While an in season change at manager feels pretty unlikely, Kapler is in the second year of a three-year deal as manager. Even if there ultimately wasn’t enough talent on the roster, the Phillies entered last August in first place in the National League East, only to go 21-34 down the stretch and finish with a losing record. If Kapler isn’t able to find a solution for this year’s bleeding, he may not be let go in season, but it certainly wouldn’t bode well for his future.
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