Phillies: Tough questions for September and not much later

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Philadelphia Phillies

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Phillies are in an impressive offensive run, but is it sufficient to keep a place in the playoffs?

Let’s consider a scenario for this year’s Philadelphia Phillies. What if they continue to putter along as they have for better than two years now, largely between five games under and a couple games over .500? As everyone knows, this season could end at any moment, suffer a COVID-suspension for a straight jump to playoffs in three moments, or end, as scheduled, in five moments.

“You have to start winning series,” advised NBC Sports Philly analyst Ricky Bottalico Aug. 25. Bottalico, a former Phillies closer, meant by that: “Now.” If not, the Phillies stand a very good chance of finishing out of the playoff picture again, even with an expanded format.

What happens then, what could have happened in terms of personnel changes before the end of August, and what will happen after that?

As the first full month of the 2020 “season” drew to a close, the Phillies began a series in Washington and took Bottalico’s direction. In a rain-interrupted game, the Fightin’s leaned on star catcher J.T. Realmuto and a shaky, newly reconstituted bullpen for the 8-3 win Aug. 25. Their record moved to a forgettable 11-14.

A sweep of the bumbling world champions would put Philadelphia in a position to get to Labor Day over .500 if they could take three out of four against Atlanta and Washington again in August’s last game.

No one was betting on that. Maybe a few more were after the Phillies and Nationals postponed their game Aug. 27 to protest the police shooting of a Black man in the back several days earlier.

Therefore, by that point, the Phillies front office should have already been thinking about players to get before the trade deadline, or at worst before next year: Define problem areas for action.

The ownership group should have been thinking about the same matters and that pesky “luxury” tax. Ownership might also have been making plans for management changes if the team remained flat or slipped further by the season’s end.

That last agenda item is surely on September’s calendar, whatever happens in the final standings. How bold that item would be on the agenda page depends on September’s Phillies play.

However, first among items the front office should have listed on the 25th or 26th were the following:

  1. Keeping an eye on Rhys “Streaky” Hoskins’ batting average (.260 now) and RBI total (18), not to mention his sometimes shaky defense;
  2. Keeping an eye on Scott Kingery and whether he continues to build strength after a serious bout with COVID-19;
  3. Fixing the bullpen further or, possibly, trading for another reliable starter.

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