Following the conclusion of the 2019 season, the Phillies had once again missed the playoffs. After signing Bryce Harper and trading for JT Realmuto and Jean Segura, fans expected a postseason appearance. Many were calling for the head of Gabe Kapler and would soon get their wish. Kapler was released with one year remaining on his deal, and the Phillies would be searching for their fourth manager since firing Charlie Manuel in 2013.
Owner John Middleton promised changes and conducted a manager search to find the next skipper in Philly. The man he landed on was former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Joe had been let go by the Yankees following the 2017 season. He had spent the previous few seasons working for MLB Network as an onscreen analyst and an in-game commentator for Fox Sports. Girardi would sign with the Phillies on a three-year contract, and the Phillies’ fanbase was ecstatic. A veteran manager with a winning pedigree was just what this ballclub needed. Or was it?
A Short Start
Girardi and the Phillies would head into Spring Training with optimism in 2020. There was a good feeling about the team, and fans were ready to dive back in on the boys in red pinstripes.
As March rolled around, so did Covid-19. Covid would put baseball and the world on pause, and it would take months before the 2020 Phillies would take the field. Baseball would return in late July and roll out a modified schedule. Teams would only play those in their division alignments and play a 60 game season.
The bullpen that the Phils put out on the field was one of the worst the game of baseball had ever seen. The club could find no stability from any of their bullpen members, and any moves that the front office made went wrong. Pitching can be the primary reason for Girardi’s early struggles as the Phils manager.
The Phillies finished 28-32 and missed the expanded playoffs. While there was frustration amongst fans, the season could easily get washed away due to the circumstances that surrounded it. Fans would get their first taste of Joe Girardi as the Phils’ manager and would have to wait and see what an entire season would look like.
New Year, Same Mistakes
Baseball would return to normalcy for the most part in 2021. Joe Girardi was granted a full Spring Training and time to prepare for the season. Running it back with much of his squad from 2020, it was time for the Phillies to return to the postseason. At the beginning of the season, hot and cold streaks saw the Phillies lose the division-leading to the New York Mets for most of the spring and summer months.
Girardi’s team was primarily struggling in the bullpen, and the Phillies would finish 2021 with 34 blown saves. Following a record year from the bullpen in 2020 (one of the worst bullpens in the game’s history), fans hoped the team would turn a corner.
Whether it was a lack of talent or the wrong button being pushed, the bullpen continued to struggle throughout the year. Fans were having trust issues late in games, and the frustrations once again boiled over. Relying on guys like David Hale in big moments will still haunt Philadelphia today. Jose Alverado and Hector Neris could not be trusted, yet Joe continued to throw them out in late innings and critical spots.
Another criticism of Joe Girardi’s decision-making in 2021 was his reliance on veteran players. The Phillies farm club is not like most in the MLB and has struggled to produce major league talent. Due to this notion, it felt like at many points during the season that Joe would look to give a below-average vet more opportunities than an up-and-coming minor league. Players like Nick Maton, Mickey Moniak, and Luke Williams were forced to sit behind Ronald Torreyes, Didi Gregorious, Travis Jankowski, and many others.
While all of these players had positive moments and helped contribute to wins, it would have benefitted the club to get better usage from their younger players. Maton and Williams stepped up big time when called on and showed promise. In his debut, William’s walk-off home run remains one of the best moments of the year. Towards the end of 2021, it was evident that Joe Girardi would not give his younger players a chance in big games.
The Phillies would have another collapse in September. They controlled their destiny once again and fell short of the postseason. One of the significant grips with Gabe Kapler was that the Phils choked late in 2018 and 2019. Girardi’s experience and winning background were supposed to make sure that would not happen again.
Preview of 2022
It was the right call for the Phillies to give Joe Girardi the last year of his deal in 2022. Especially following this off-season’s lockout, it is welcoming to know there will be continuity. Girardi must get the Phillies to the playoff in 2022. There are no excuses or exceptions that will be tolerated by the fans in the city of Brotherly Love.
The Phillies have not made the postseason since 2011, and they have the second-longest streak in the game. It is time to change the culture of Phillies baseball, and if Joe Girardi fails to do so in 2022, the club should find the right manager to do so.
Photo Credit: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire