Analysis

Phillies schedule has nothing but NL East rivals for the next month



Kapler’s ball club has slipped out of first place, and now faces nothing but NL East rivals for the next month of the 2019 schedule. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Phillies (38-30) dropped the finale of a six-game homestand to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night. That loss was their third in the last four games. They are just 5-8 since reaching a season-best 11 games over the .500 mark following a victory back on May 29.

Meanwhile, the defending National League East Division champion Atlanta Braves have gotten white hot. The Braves defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates by a 6-5 score on Thursday afternoon in Atlanta for their seventh consecutive victory, their ninth win over their last 11 games.

As a result of this recent turn of events for the two teams, the Phillies have fallen out of first place for the first time since April 25. They are now 1.5 games behind the Braves, a game back in the loss column.

The Phillies still control a National League Wildcard playoff slot, but are just 2.5 games up on both the Dbacks and the Colorado Rockies for that postseason berth, just two in the loss column on Colorado.

NFL head coach Jim Mora, then with the Indianapolis Colts, famously responded back in November 2001 to a reporter asking him about his team contending for a playoff berth: “Playoffs? Don’t talk about – playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?

It is waaaaay too early to be worrying about playoffs for the Phillies. Before fans, and more importantly the team’s management, can think about the postseason, they have to worry about winning ball games on a more consistent basis.

Over the next month, the 2019 Major League Baseball schedule has delivered a pretty incredible quirk to the Phillies, one that will provide them with an excellent barometer as to where they actually stand. Their next 26 games will come within the division. It breaks down as follows:

Braves (6): at Atlanta this weekend, July 2-4 in Philly

Nationals (7): June 17-20 at Washington, July 12-14 in Philly

Mets (7): June 24-27 in Philly, July 5-7 in New York

Marlins (6): June 21-23 in Philly, June 28-30 in Miami

There is just one regular off-day in that stretch, coming on Monday, July 1 in the midst of a nine-game road trip through Miami, Atlanta, and New York.

The MLB All-Star break comes from July 8-11, just prior to a pivotal seven-game homestand that will see the Nationals in for three games to end that month-long divisional stretch. The Nats will be followed at Citizens Bank Park by a four-game long weekend with the NL’s top team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This month of games within the NL East will get the Phillies up to and through the mid-point in the 2019 MLB schedule, which is scheduled to come on during a four-game home series with the Mets at the end of this month. When the month of divisional games ends, there will be a just a little more than two weeks left until the MLB trade deadline.

Middleton (left) and Klentak (C) brought in Harper (R) and others to bolster the lineup, but now more needs to be done to reach the 2019 postseason.

It would really be a stretch to blame management. Matt Klentak and John Middleton came through, upgrading the lineup in a major way with the off-season additions of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen.

Klentak then traded for Jay Bruce in an attempt to bolster the bench and versatility options for manager Gabe Kapler. That plan went awry when McCutchen was almost immediately lost to a season-ending injury, forcing Bruce to start everyday, again leaving the bench short-handed.

Management could not possibly have foreseen the incredible run of major injuries which have struck the bullpen. And letting the starting rotation play out for the first couple of months was the right move as well. It was expected that Aaron Nola would be an emerging ‘Ace’, a healthy Jake Arrieta a reliable #2 starter, and that the mix of Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez would find at least two of the three stepping up to become legitimate big-league options.

Though you cannot blame management to this point for the team’s struggles, they will be to blame if they simply throw in the towel and do not move aggressively to plug the leaks in what appears at this moment to be a seriously leaking ship.

In order to seriously contend, these Phillies need a few things. One more proven, veteran starting pitcher, preferably a left-hander. At least one more strong, veteran bullpen arm with late-innings experience. And they need a couple of veterans who can come off the bench as legitimate pinch-hitting threats.

Of course, the urgency to fill those holes could be mitigated by more production from a few of the players from whom more has been expected than delivered. I am speaking here specifically about Harper, Nola, Arrieta, and Rhys Hoskins. While each of those players has had their moments, and a good stretch or two, none has produced to their potential.

It will be interesting to see how this year’s version of the Phillies will respond to a poor stretch of play that saw them lose a grip on the top of the division. Last year’s squad didn’t just respond poorly to just such a situation in mid-August, they totally collapsed.

This team appears to be more mature and even appears to be deeper in talent than the 2018 version. How these Phillies respond over this next month against their NL East Division rivals will tell a great deal about not only their talent, but also their determination and their collective character.

 

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