The Philadelphia Phillies entered the 2020 season with a great opportunity to end their postseason appearance drought. The season was only going to be 60 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The postseason was expanded to 8 teams in each league, meaning they only had to be better than 7 teams to finally get to the postseason for the first time since 2011. More teams would make the playoffs then miss.
But this Phillies team defied logic. They laughed in the face of the odds. They politely declined when the baseball gods kept handing them chance after chance in the final weeks of the season to clinch a postseason berth.
The Phillies were officially eliminated on the final day of the regular season. They failed to finish over .500 for the ninth consecutive season. In fact, they finished under .500 for the seventh time in those nine years since the end of the Golden Era in 2011.
Philadelphia needed to win just two of their final eight games to fall into an eight team playoff field. They only managed one win and went out with a whimper in a shutout on the season’s final day.
So much has been written about the Phillies bullpen it’s hard to find something that hasn’t already been said. This unit wasn’t just bad, they were all time bad. There isn’t enough adjectives to properly describe their performance
The Phillies likely make the postseason with your regular run-of-the-mill bottom five bullpen. But no, they had one of the worst bullpens ever assembled in Major League history.
Step back and think about that for a second. Professional baseball has existed in the United States since 1876. Major League Baseball has existed since 1903. That is almost 150 years worth of bullpens. Earned run average became an official statistic in 1912. The 2020 Phillies are among the worst in the category, finishing with a 7.13 bullpen ERA.
Games lost after leading by 3+ runs, NL East:— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) September 26, 2020
So Phillies 8, all other NL East teams combined 8
The Phillies lost 8 games in which they led by at least three runs. Their bullpen had 11 saves to 14 blown leads. If they won just two or three of the many games they blew, they walk into the postseason.
Update!— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) September 27, 2020
The #Phillies (3 games under .500) have now scored first in 41 of their 59 games.
The Dodgers (25 games over .500) have scored first in 39.
Record when scoring first:
Phillies 21-20 https://t.co/zGAnEWRxGN
The Front Office
General manager Matt Klentak and President Andy MacPhail both took control of the baseball operations of the Phillies in September of 2015. They were charged with overseeing a rebuild that would ultimately return the Phillies to contention. They were to rebuild a barren farm system with shrewd signings and smart trades.
Fast forward to 2020. The Phillies have not had a winning record in any of the six seasons those two have been at the helm. Of course, they weren’t trying to win until 2018. But since then, the Phillies are 189-195. They are among the top ten in payroll. That is simply unacceptable.
After 5 years in control, Klentak and co. have failed to put together anything close to a competitive pitching staff. The Phillies have two reliable starters and no reliable relievers. Their starting pitching depth is non-existent. Some young relievers such as JoJo Romero and Connor Brogdon have shown promise, but it took too long for them to be given their shot. The Phillies were content to churn through scrap heap castoffs for far too long.
Owner John Middleton shares some of the blame with Klentak and MacPhail as well. After making the infamous “stupid money” comment in the 2018 offseason, Middleton suddenly put the clamps on the Phillies payroll before 2020. He refused to go over the luxury tax which led to the waiver wire bullpen and going to arbitration with J.T. Realmuto over $2M. But of course, any GM worth his weight should be able to put together a contending team with this high of a payroll.
There is much more to be said about the Klentak and MacPhail era. More on that this week. Many questions will arise about their job status. One or both may be gone before this is even published.
The Lineup and Rotation
The Phillies offense was a strength this year. They were fifth in runs scored, third in on base percentage at .344, eighth in slugging at .443, and eighth in team batting average at .258.
But, far too often they scored early and then were shut down the rest of the way and watched as their lead evaporated. They struggled to hit with runners in scoring position at times. Ultimately, inconsistency and injuries didn’t allow for them to overcome their poor pitching.
The starting rotation was better than expected, bolstered by strong seasons from Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and a solid campaign from Zach Eflin. Even Jake Arrieta had some decent starts. But much like years past, it just wasn’t enough, especially when injuries ravaged the rotation. The Phillies just flat out did not have any answers after Arrieta and top prospect Spencer Howard went down. Vince Vealsquez was once again called into the rotation and once again showed he simply is not good enough. Prospect Adonis Medina had to make a spot start despite never pitching above Double A because the Phillies had no one else.
A vocal part of the Phillies fan base blamed much of the failures of the last two seasons on Gabe Kapler. He was not totally innocent, but it was also not entirely his fault. Regardless, many fans believed that Joe Girardi would walk in and turn this team around.
Well, maybe now it will become abundantly obvious it was never just the manager at fault. Like Kapler, Girardi is not innocent. His refusal to play Adam Haseley on a regular basis despite being a clearly better option than Roman Quinn is still puzzling. Continuing to turn to Phil Gosselin for at bats even after his early season hot streak ended and Jay Bruce was healthy is also extremely questionable. Even batting J.T. Realmuto cleanup (he hit .235 with RISP this year) looks like a poor decision.
One of Girardi’s supposed strengths is managing a bullpen. Of course, he is not the reason they had a historically bad bullpen. There were many times where it didn’t matter who he put in and when, there was just no consistent source of outs. However, in the final weeks of the season when the Phillies seemed to have found something in Brogdon and to a lesser extent Romero, Girardi still turned to unreliable relievers like Brandon Workman to get crucial outs.
Ultimately, it is not all on Girardi, just as it was not all on Kapler. Both made mistakes. Both were guilty of poor decision making and mismanagement. But, there is now one constant in all three of the Phillies September collapses. That is Matt Klentak.
Klentak handed both managers heavily flawed rosters. Then when the time came to try and make in-season trades to fix it, those trades never yielded much or were flat out disasters. Girardi was a problem in 2020, but he is far down the list of problems that torpedoed this season.