Aaron Nola is just one of many underperforming players on the Philadelphia Phillies in 2021. (Image courtesy of Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports)

A few months ago, I commented on what I believed to be a knee-jerk reaction to a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets. At that point in time, I felt that it was too early to panic about the Phillies. Surely, they were going to develop into what I thought they would be: a team built to compete deep into October. Just give them time. Now, as we rest in fourth place in the division on the eve of Independence Day, we’re faced with the stark reality that the Philadelphia Phillies are just not that good of a ball club. With that being the case, the question begs to be answered: Can the Philadelphia Phillies flip the script for the 2021 season, or is it too late to make things right?

The Glass Half Full Outlook

I’m going to start out trying to be positive because it’s easy to be negative about this team because, well, they kinda suck. Whoops. slipped into that one quickly. Let’s try that again.

Look, if you’re going to be a borderline .500 team and you still want to compete for a playoff spot, the NL East is the division for you. Despite a 38-41 record, the Phils are only 4.0 games back of the division-leading New York Mets. The division is still wide open. It’s not going to take 95+ wins to take the division crown. Like I predicted to start the year, it’s probably going to take somewhere between 87-90 wins.

Supposing that’s the case, can the Phillies go 49-34 over the back half of the season? Improbable, sure, but not impossible. We’ve seen lesser talented teams go on runs like that to sneak into the postseason. The 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks were the embodiment of the shoulder shrug emoji in the first half of the season before going 43-29 down the stretch. A different time and a different game, but history is rife with teams getting hot post-All-Star break. A lot would have to go right, and some changes have to be made if this were the case.

What’s the Fix?

Clearly, our best course of action will be to continue blowing saves so that we can allow Brad Miller to send us home happy. Right? Sounds like a sustainable strategy…

Snarkiness aside, the Phillies have to figure out their bullpen situation. There’s no way around this. You can’t blow save after save after save and rely on guys like Brad Miller coming through in the clutch to save the day. Sooner or later, that strategy will fail. Someone has to step up in the back end of the ‘pen. If that player isn’t currently on the roster, the Phillies need to go out and find that pitcher.

Earlier this week, I wrote about some relief help that could be had out of Pittsburgh. Go out and make a move for Richard Rodriguez. Bump Jose Alvarado and Hector Neris further and further away from the ninth inning. Let Archie Bradley build up in lower leverage situations before deploying him in the 8th day in and day out. This bullpen is fixable if you add the right pieces to the puzzle.

Philadelphia Phillies, Hector Neris
Hector Neris has a career ERA approaching 4.00 in the 9th inning. That’s half a run higher than his career ERA in the 8th and almost double his career ERA in the 7th. Why do we keep throwing him out there in save situations? (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Leff, Getty Images)

On the Other Hand…

There are a lot of issues that plague this team. An underperforming offense. The aforementioned bullpen issues. Those aside, there is a very real crisis of leadership on the Philadelphia Phillies. For me, this is what I see as the biggest weakness on this team and is the one that will keep them from playing in October.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues and I discussed whether or not we’ve misjudged what Joe Girardi brings to this team. At some point, the facts are what they are: Joe Girardi is not a very good manager and, honestly, probably shouldn’t be back in 2022. Prior to this season, I always felt like he got a raw deal in New York, but maybe the Yankees were right on cutting ties with him after the 2017 season.

I think the results of this survey are telling. We can blame the players for underperforming all we want (and, honestly, we rightly should, despite what Rhys Hoskins believes), but the fact remains that Joe Girardi continues to struggle in his in-game decision making and strategy. Is it easy to armchair quarterback this situation? Sure. Is hindsight 20/20? Absolutely. Still, the Philadelphia Phillies consistently make the type of bone-headed mistakes that winning ballclubs just don’t make.

Where Do the Philadelphia Phillies Go From Here?

There’s still a lot of baseball left this season, but I am having trouble convincing myself that the Philadelphia Phillies have a legitimate shot this year. The flaws and shortcomings of this team run just too deep and some major changes need to be made. Would adding a player like Richard Rodriguez or Ian Kennedy to the back end of the ‘pen change my outlook? It would give me some hope, but, then again, I felt hopeful after the Phils acquired Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree last year. I think we can all remember how that worked out.

Joe Girardi certainly has his work cut out for him. Unfortunately for him, he can’t turn to baseball’s all-time greatest closer to shorten games anymore. What’s it going to be, Joe? Are you going to help get this team back on track or are you just part of the problem? For the Philadelphia Phillies, the time to start playing better baseball is now if they want to be playing meaningful baseball in September and October.