It didn’t have to get this bad.
On June 3, when Phillies shortstop Jean Segura didn’t run out a pop-up to second base, ultimately forcing center fielder Andrew McCutchen into a rundown that ended with McCutchen tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, that was the moment. The moment when manager Gabe Kapler, general manager Matt Klentak, or both, needed to establish clearly that any insufficient or unprofessional effort by any player on the team would not only not be tolerated – it would be punished.
The Phillies won four straight after McCutchen was lost for the season. In a related story, if you drop a dead cat from enough height, it will bounce. That doesn’t make it less dead. Since beating the Cincinnati Reds on June 8, the Phillies are 2-10 and have lost six straight. There are some circumstances beyond anyone’s control at work here. The bullpen has been decimated by injury. The Phillies are trying to hold occasional leads or stay in games with either young relievers who are in the major leagues too soon or veteran pitchers who may not belong in the bigs anymore.
The bullpen’s struggles have been magnified by the fact that Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta are both lugging around earned run averages over four. They’re still the staff aces, but that’s only because Jerad Eickhoff and Nick Pivetta are both giving up over five and a half runs per nine innings. You can’t blame Kapler for any of that. Not Klentak, either. The starting pitchers aren’t kids anymore.
Arrieta came here as an established talent. Nola is 26. So is Pivetta. Eickhoff will be 29 in a little more than a week. The manager and the top brass had every right to expect all four of these pitchers to be better than they have been. With those caveats, the apology tour for Kapler and Klentak ends. After Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Miami Marlins, it is obvious that neither the manager nor his boss has any real authority over the players in the field.
Here was Segura’s response after the June 3 play that ended McCutchen’s season and, let’s be frank, cast some doubt on what a 33-year-old centerfielder will be able to do coming off this injury in 2020: “I don’t have any excuse. I slipped at home plate. I have to get up and run the bases. I need to do a better job.”
Segura’s resolve to be a better teammate lasted all of two weeks.
He led off the night game on June 19 with a bloop to the outfield that he didn’t think would fall. It did, and because he didn’t run hard out of the batter’s box, he was on first base and not second when the play ended.
Gabe Kapler on Phillies Postgame Live on Jean Segura not hustling in first inning
“Its unacceptable. I spoke to Jean”
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) June 20, 2019
The rest of the inning went like this: Fly ball to left field corner (would have taken third base), soft grounder to first (would have scored), strikeout. Segura ended the inning on third base.Here was Segura’s response this time around: “I don’t have an excuse. That can’t happen.”
Segura wasn’t benched, fined or suspended after either of these incidents. He was written into the next game’s lineup straightaway both times. Kapler, and by extension Klentak, have to wear that. Especially since the sloth is spreading.
On Saturday, with the Phillies down 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, second baseman Cesar Hernandez strolled out of the batter’s box when he thought his lazy fly ball to left field would be caught. But Curtis Granderson, whose range at 38 years of age isn’t what it used to be, couldn’t get to it. Hernandez ended up with a leadoff single and not a leadoff double. Here’s the play in question:
The next batter, Bryce Harper, rolled into a double play.
Kapler is talking a pretty big game about discipline now. “Those things are definitely things that need to be addressed. They have to be addressed swiftly. They have to be addressed with authority, and they will be.”
The time for swift, authoritative action was three weeks ago. When Kapler gave Segura a pass for the June 3 play, the prevailing rationale was that accidents will happen and that benching one of the team’s remaining offensive threats with McCutchen out, just to prove a point, would be a case of the medicine being worse than the disease. That turned out to be the ultimate example of short-term thinking. Because now, what is Kapler really going to do with Hernandez? Bench him? How could Kapler do that after ignoring Segura’s laziness twice before in this same month? To say nothing of the fact that it would look like Kapler is catering to a star while punishing a lesser talent.
Again, there are many things the Phillies cannot control. Injuries, ineffectiveness and hitting slumps are part of baseball. They come and go. But giving legitimate, professional effort to play the game to the best of one’s ability is entirely within every player’s control, every day. And if Kapler can’t make these players try their best, then Klentak has to get rid of them.