It almost seems impossible we’re here again. Another year, another September collapse. Regardless of how the season ends, whether the Phillies clinch a wild card spot or not, the past couple weeks have been alarming. This team and its $245 million payroll is too talented and too experienced to be playing this poorly––this lifeless––when it matters the most. A decade-long playoff drought that is tops in the National League was not supposed to end like this. Not like a slow limp to the finish line hoping the team behind you plays worse. It was supposed to end with 43,035 rally towels anxiously awaiting the next pitch, praying, but having confidence that the result will secure a spot in October. Guess that was just too good to be true.
Instead, this Phillies team has lost 10 of their last 14 before Saturday’s doubleheader against the last place Nationals. The Brewers, who sit behind the Phils by just half a game for the third wild card spot, have won 8 of 14 over the same time frame dating back to September 15th. There’s plenty of blame to go around––Rob Thomson’s bullpen management has been spotty, the starting rotation has not been sharp, and the offense has endured a prolonged slump capped off by scoring three runs in a three game sweep at Wrigley Field. When assessing why this collapse is happening, it’s hard to single out one specific cause. Everything has gone wrong. So let’s ask the question: how can whatever this is be fixed?
Getting back to playing their game would be a good start. There’s a reason why the Phillies rank top 10 in all of baseball in nearly every major hitting category. During the summer months where they went 52-29, the entire team relied on each other. They could count on the guy behind them to get the job done. Though it doesn’t feel like it, the Phillies are seventh in baseball with a .254 batting average with runners in scoring position. The starting pitching also ranks top five in innings pitched and WAR while the bullpen ranks top 10 in K/9, ERA, and WAR, according to Fangraphs. This is a good Phillies team that is playing stiff and scared of blowing it once again.
Rob Thomson said as much following the club being swept by the 70-86 Cubs, “I think they’re trying to do too much at times. I’m not sure if that’s pressure, but I think there’s other times during the season where they tried to do too much, too. We’ve gone on stretches like that. So we’ve got to come out of it––and we will.”
Yes, the Phils are playing aggravatingly bad baseball right now. Bryce Harper is trying to carry the team after coming off the injured list. Jean Segura is trying to make the playoffs with one swing. Kyle Schwarber is trying to put the team on his shoulders like he did in June. Aaron Nola is trying to prove September isn’t a problem. Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson are trying to push themselves to perfection. These mindsets are not working––and none of them will happen. But, if they go back to playing their game––playing with energy and trusting all 26 guys to go out there and pick each other up––they’ll break out of this. They’ve got six games left to figure it out. Hold on to your seats.
Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images