PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Depending on the time and day, Gabe Kapler’s job security as Phillies manager in the court of public opinion fluctuates between fired today and this winter. Any time general manager Matt Klentak is approached about the subject, he sings high praise about his manager hire’s job.
On Sunday, it was no different — despite the Phillies’ playoff hopes becoming bleaker by the day.
Klentak joined MLB Network Radio on Sunday and reiterated his support for Kapler, highlighting his ability to learn from his mistakes and adapt.
“I love Kap, and I’ve said that every time I’ve been asked, which is a lot over the last couple of years,” he said. “The No. 1 thing I would tell you, and I don’t dispute your synopsis that he is creative, that he is outside the box and he does things differently, that’s generally true.
"I love Kap."
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) September 1, 2019
“I think that was definitely more true in the beginning of 2018. As he’s become more and more experienced as a manager, as a leader, more experienced with the Philadelphia market, I think it’s remarkable how much he’s adjusted.”
When the Phillies brought back Charlie Manuel as hitting coach on Aug. 13, many wondered about the working dynamic between Kapler and Manuel. Others thought maybe — just maybe — Manuel would replace Kapler at some point this season as interim manager if things continued to go off the rails.
Many speculated that Kapler’s seat became hotter when the Phils opted to fire John Mallee — and that may be true. It will ultimately depend on results.
The Phillies enter Sunday night’s series finale against the New York Mets four games above .500 and 3½ games behind the Chicago Cubs for the National League’s second Wild Card spot. They entered this season with sky-high expectations, and they’ve fallen far short of them.
Yet, as the Phillies enter the final month of the season, they remain in the hunt for a postseason spot — and Kapler does deserve some credit for that.
The Phils’ lineup has massively underperformed, though it has heated up since bringing Manuel back. They lost their leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen in June, and haven’t been able to replace him since. Their rotation has two reliable starters — Aaron Nola and Jason Vargas. They have an entire bullpen on the injured list, including six of the eight relievers who were on the Opening Day roster.
All things considered, the Phillies are on pace to win 82 games with a 5% chance of making the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Putting everything in perspective, it’s hard to argue that Kapler isn’t a considerably better manager this year than he was last season.
In 2018, the Phils were 63-48 through Aug. 5 with the second best record in the NL. They won just 17 of their final 51 games and finished two games under .500. That was a team with far fewer expectations that overachieved for the first four months of the season.
This season, the Phillies have underachieved offensively with no bench and pitching problems that ultimately fall on the shoulders of Klentak’s, not Kapler’s.
Still, they’re within striking distance of ending fifth-longest active playoff drought in baseball. That has to say something about Kapler.
“I know whether it’s a manager or a general manager, the team results are what’s going to matter,” Klentak said. “I know that. I’m not trying to dance around that. I think it’s unfair to expect a manager to come in, whether it’s a traditional background or a nontraditional background, and have all the answers on Day 1.
“That’s just not reality. I think Kap’s ability to adjust and learn, and grow, has been remarkable, frankly. I think he’s at a point now where I think he’s very, very different from what he was like in the beginning of last year.”
For a team with expectations of competing for — if not winning — the NL East, the Phillies’ 2019 campaign will ultimately be a disappointment.
But making the playoffs, even if it is a one-game Wild Card game, matters.
Klentak’s comments on Kapler on Sunday amid the Phillies losing three of their last five series — two against the Padres and Marlins — in a crucial stretch will not sit well with a large portion of the fanbase.
But pinning all of the Phillies’ problems on Kapler is too easy.
The Phils has, while maddeningly inconsistent, remain in a playoff race as the calendar turns to September.
Kapler is far from the Phillies’ problem.
Is he part of the solution? That still remains to be seen.