PHILADELPHIA – Joe Girardi managed a Phillies team with the reigning NL MVP, five 2021 All-Stars, a $233 million payroll that nudged the franchise above the luxury tax and expectations of ending the longest playoff drought in the National League.
Here's what the former World Series-winning manager of the New York Yankees got instead: a Phillies team with a sagging bullpen, defensive deficiencies and slumbering starts from a few high-priced veterans. Throw in some of Girardi's questionable handling of the bullpen, epic late-game collapses, sloppy baserunning and injuries to Bryce Harper and Jean Segura and the Phillies again sit in June out of the division race — and Girardi out of a job.
Buried deep in the NL East standings, Girardi on Friday became the first major league manager to lose his job this season after failing to turn a team with a record payroll into a playoff contender.
Bench coach Rob Thomson was named interim manager and won his debut, 10-0 over the Los Angeles Angels.
Expected to contend for the division title, the Phillies are 23-29 and entered Friday 12 games behind the first-place New York Mets. Philadelphia entered Friday 5 1/2 games out of the second NL wild-card spot.
“Oh, I think we can make the playoffs. I think we’re in a position where we can battle back to do that. I do believe that,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said.
Few Philly sports fans are steadfast in that belief.
With good reason. The Phillies lost 12 of 17 games heading into the opener of Friday’s three-game series against the Angels. Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper homered twice and Zach Eflin pitched eight shutout innings in Thomson's debut.
“There's blame on us, as well,” Harper said. “There's not just blame on Joe. We haven't played to the best of our ability. We haven't done the things to be the team we should be.”
The Phillies counted on Harper — the NL MVP slowed most of the season with right arm issues that forced him to serve as the designated hitter — NL Cy Young Award runner-up Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto and free-agent sluggers Nick Castellanos and Schwarber to return the Phillies to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Schwarber is hitting just .192, Segura is out three months with a broken finger, and third baseman Alec Bohm, first baseman Rhys Hoskins and corner outfielders Castellanos and Schwarber have been defensive liabilities.
Dombrowski will have to scour the trade market to make a run at a wild-card spot because the Phillies have little help available in the minor leagues.
He can start by bolstering the bullpen. The Phillies blew 51 save chances under Girardi and this season alone saw dumbfounding defeats. The lowlight was a May 5 loss at home to the New York Mets when they blew a six-run deficit in the ninth inning and lost 8-7. The Mets had lost the previous 330 times they trailed by six runs in the ninth.
“I think there’s a number of reasons we didn’t win. We gave too many extra outs that cost us four or five games, maybe even more,” Girardi told SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio.
The Phillies haven't won the World Series since Angels slugger and New Jersey native Mike Trout partied in the Citizens Bank Park parking lots in 2008. The Phillies have watched fan interest plummet through a decade-plus of lazy summers and little hope for a playoff push. Prospects haven't panned out. Free agents have underachieved.
“By no means am I saying that we’ve done everything right," Hoskins said. "Of course we haven’t, otherwise we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But at the end of the day it’s about results. The results have to be better.”
And no manager can unlock the malaise. The Phillies are on their fifth manager since they fired 2008 World Series champion Charlie Manuel in 2013. Gabe Kapler was fired after a 161-163 record in two seasons and then led the San Francisco Giants to a 107-55 record and the playoffs last season.
“It’s not something that can’t be fixed and changed,” Dombrowski said. “I think we already started some of those changes this winter time when we made some changes within our system, our organization, a lot of changes, but those things don’t show up overnight.”
Girardi had the sterling resume and pressure-packed experience from New York that made him a safe pick before the 2020 season. The Phillies peaked at 82-80 last year and he ends his tenure with a 132-141 record. He likely had to make the playoffs this season after the Phillies declined to pick up his option for 2023.
The Phillies are 13-15 at home and are 4-10 in one-run games. They were 3-7 over the final 10 games of Girardi's tenure.
“I think realistically we should have been 7-3. Well, that’s going to fall on me because we weren’t," Girardi said. “I just pray that they get better and that they get to the playoffs.”
Thomson was Philadelphia's bench coach and coordinated spring training for the last five seasons. He was hired before the 2018 season. He was a minor league player from 1985-88, became a Yankees minor league coach in 1990, joined Joe Torre’s big league coaching staff for 2004 and remained a coach under Girardi. It's his turn to take on the Phillies.
“I’ve been studying championship clubs for a long time and I truly believe there are pieces here to be a very good club,” Thomson said.
Harper is already on his third manager in his fourth season with the Phillies since he left Washington and signed a $330, 13-year contract. Harper has largely lived up to the deal — and now he's waiting for the Phillies to do the same.
“I think it’s my eighth or ninth manager in the 11 years. It’s crazy,” Harper said. “This is kind of just another day for me coming into a new manager and things like that. I’m looking forward to working with Thomps, and hopefully starting a streak today because we don’t have much time.”
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