Phillies’ character was tested: The results were not great

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JULY 04: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies kneels on second base during a pitching change by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at SunTrust Park on July 04, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JULY 04: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies kneels on second base during a pitching change by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth inning at SunTrust Park on July 04, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Phillies’ character-defining stretch of 2019 has ended after 25 straight divisional games. Here is what we learned and what the team does from here.

The character-defining stretch of the season for the Phillies has ended. Despite a walk-off home run from Maikel Franco on Sunday, they have amassed a 10-15 record in their time of 25 straight games versus opponents within the NL East.

They are 6-1 against the Mets. That’s how poorly they’ve played over the last month. This raises two questions: Who is to blame? And, Where does the team go from here?

The blame question is a hard one to analyze because as fans, we may have been misled from the beginning about the actual talent level of this team. At the beginning of the season, Fangraphs projected the Phillies to win approximately 85 games. Now, they’re projected to finish the season at 81-81, which would be an incredible disappointment.

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One thing is for sure: despite the easy target on his back, manager Gabe Kapler is not at fault for this team’s demise. His in-game decisions have been suitable, and a fan (and the team) must recognize that multiple players underperforming cannot be pointed at the manager.

As for the end-of-season decisions, I don’t know if Kapler will still be here. He is generally not liked by the fanbase, and the team is vastly underperforming relative to expectations.

Whether they are at fault or not, that usually leads a manager to the exits.

Should fans be pointing the finger at Bryce Harper? The $330 million man has been fine, but not great (and certainly not worth $330 million). Fans in attendance have cut him a lot of slack. There are boos here and there, but they not nearly as intense as I thought they would be. The players should be looking to Harper as a de-facto leader of the team, the face of the franchise, but Bryce has not shown up. Sunday’s performance was no exception.

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Or, instead, is the blame on the front office, led by general manager Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail? This seems to be the most popular choice among the three. If the team is struggling this mightily against everyone but the Mets, perhaps this team is not as good as it was made out to be. I’ve mentioned it before, the inability to develop talent within the organization (particularly pitchers) forced them to trade for players and sign free agents.

Pitcher development has long been a problem in the organization, particularly starting pitching. The only two bonafide number one pitchers the Phillies have developed in the past 15 years are Aaron Nola and Cole Hamels.

The front office was hoping that pitchers such as Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and Zach Eflin would be able to take the next step this year. However, none have. It has pinned the club to a wall.

There are too many holes to fill this trade deadline to become a contender, especially after the Boston Red Sox’s acquisition of Andrew Cashner from the Baltimore Orioles. A team cannot trade for two or three starting pitchers, a bullpen pitcher, and another fielder. It simply is not possible. Will the Phillies stand pat at the trade deadline? That remains to be seen.

Depending on how the upcoming four-game set with the NL-best Los Angeles Dodgers pans out, it would likely be best for the Phillies to refrain from making any moves. With the number of shortfalls to overcome, the team is in a wild card chase that currently contains the Nationals in the first spot up by 1.5 games, Phillies in the second spot, and the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cardinals, and Padres all within three games.

The Dodgers series this week will tell us a lot about the direction of the Phillies for the remainder of the season. A series win or split, and we may see a small trade or two to improve the roster. Lose three or four, and I think the direction could be much different.

I am wary of the Phillies buying anything this trade deadline unless they are buying for multiple years and can get a great deal. Pushing in for a wild-card spot in a very tight race would be far too risky in the long-term.

Win the game, and the Phillies would have to face the Dodgers in the first round. I’m no fool, but I’d be surprised if the Phillies won one game out of that series. Lose the wild card game? The story tells itself.

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Coming into this season-defining stretch, many fans did not expect to be having this conversation. However, after amassing a 4-14 record against teams from outside New York, including 1-5 against the Miami Marlins, here we are. It is time for the Phillies to show up or bow out.