The Philadelphia Phillies will enter the third game of their four-game series with the New York Mets Wednesday evening tied for the second National League Wild Card spot and on a two-game winning streak. Things have calmed down from the fever pitch they were at Sunday night – when, after a lifeless loss, some speculated that manager Gabe Kapler’s job could be in jeopardy if the Phillies laid in an egg in a four-game series against Mickey Callaway’s dysfunctional Mets. But the Phillies are still 8-14 in June, so criticisms of Kapler are likely to re-emerge the second the Phillies are no longer on a winning streak.
One of the strongest criticisms that Kapler has faced revolves around the perception that he hasn’t disciplined players when there is a perceived lack of effort running the bases. The second-year manager is aware of that narrative, but says that while it may be more expedient for him to play into what certain fans and media members would like to see, he’s going to continue to do what he believes is best for the team.
“Let me start with this—it would be easy to bench players and I know that it would make a significant segment of the fanbase happy. And I would not have to face questions about it every day and you know what, in the end maybe my job would be safer,” Kapler said Wednesday to Angelo Cataldi on SportsRadio 94 WIP. “It would be easy, but it wouldn’t be right. I see our fans as an important part of what we do every day, but I can’t and I won’t manage based on online polls. I’m gonna make decisions that I believe are in the best interests of our team based on what’s happening inside that clubhouse.”
Jean Segura’s effort running the bases has twice come under question.
In an 8-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on June 3, Segura hit a lazy pop-up to Padres second baseman Ian Kinsler. After slipping in the batter’s box, Segura didn’t give much of an effort running to first base. Recognizing this, Kinsler let the ball drop, threw out Segura at first base and got Andrew McCutchen, who was on first base at the time, trapped in a rundown. During this rundown, McCutchen went down with what turned out to be a season-ending torn ACL.
Then, during the second game of a double-header with the Washington Nationals last week, Segura led off by hitting a bloop into left-center field that ultimately dropped. Had he busted it out of the box, Segura almost certainly could have reached second base and eventually scored based on how the inning played out. Instead, he ended the inning stranded on third base and Max Scherzer dominated the Phillies in a 2-0 win. Segura heard more universal criticism in this instance, with a majority suggesting that he probably should have been benched for Thursday’s game at Nationals Park. But, Kapler kept him in the lineup and he homered in a 7-4 loss.
In this past weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Miami Marlins, Cesar Hernandez’s effort sprinting (or not sprinting) to first base in Saturday’s loss became a point of discussion. Hernandez led off the bottom of the eighth with a single that probably could have been a double. Instead, down two runs, Bryce Harper followed Hernandez by grounding into a double-play. Hernandez remained in the game Saturday and wasn’t benched Sunday.
Kapler, however, fundamentally disagrees with the thought process that Segura and Hernandez didn’t run at full speed in these instances because they were being lazy.
“It seems to assume that there’s a lack of care coming from Jean, coming from Cesar, like they’re not trying hard enough. And I understand why it might look like that from the stands, watching on TV, whatever. If that were the case, than maybe some sort of punishment would make sense, like pulling them out of the lineup or not playing. But that’s just not the case. Jean didn’t run as hard as he could because he let his frustration come out for a moment, and we’ve all had those moments. I had mine kicking dirt after a temper tantrum last week. Cesar saw a ball that was foul, that was fair, and then was overly cautious and didn’t want to take the bat out of Bryce’s hands. These aren’t the best decisions, but they’re not the product of people who don’t care and punishment might make some people feel better for a moment—like they’ve gotten some sort of vicarious, emotional release, whatever. But punishment doesn’t teach emotional control during our most challenging times. And punishment doesn’t insure that we’re gonna see foul or fair better with more accuracy. It’s a minute of emotional release for fans, and sometimes for decision makers, but not for the clubhouse who continues to see the effort that Cesar has brought for years and who has seen hustle from Jean and I don’t want to let those clubhouse guys down. The guys that we have in that room are professionals. They don’t need a big public spectacle to understand the pressure and the urgency and they don’t need a stunt like removing somebody from a lineup.”
In Kapler’s defense, after a slow start to the month, Hernandez is hitting .425 is his last 40 at-bats. Segura, meanwhile, had four hits in Monday’s 13-run outburst, and may be the best contact hitter on the Phillies. So while there’s something to be said for sending a message, it’s not hard to follow the logic of Kapler and quite a few others, who believe that especially in a month where the Phillies playoff hopes have taken a hit, it doesn’t make sense to bench two of the better hitters on the team.
As far as the vote of confidence that general manager Matt Klentak issued regarding Kapler and his coaching staff Monday, Kapler appreciated it. But he knows that even if he’s safe for the time being, 2020 is a contract year. His long-term future as Phillies skipper will be dependent not simply on whether him and Klentak have a good relationship, but on how the Phillies perform compared to the high internal expectations placed on the team.
“Matt is very supportive, and that always feels good. But the reality is, I’m going to be judged on how we perform on that field. That’s how it should be and I’m always prepared to meet that standard.”
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