PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies, who spent more than all but three major league teams on this year’s roster but have won only as many games as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles, fired manager Joe Girardi Friday morning. The team named bench coach Rob Thomson interim manager.
The Phillies have relieved Joe Girardi of his duties as manager today. Bench coach Rob Thomson has been named interim manager for the club through the end of the 2022 season. In addition, coaching assistant Bobby Meacham was also relieved of his duties. pic.twitter.com/lVL60RrSnJ— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) June 3, 2022
Dombrowski’s Phillies built a $228 million roster around high-priced sluggers, a team that was built with the expectation that it would make up with power what it conceded on defense and in the bullpen.
But the trouble was that the Phillies’ one-sided formula hasn’t worked nearly as well as anyone here hoped. They began June with just three more wins than the hapless Washington Nationals, barely holding off the Miami Marlins for third in the National League East. They watched the New York Mets match the third-largest division lead entering June since division play began in 1969. They were consumed by questions about the stability of their clubhouse, the kind of questions only winning is able to answer definitively — the kind of questions the manager always ends up having to answer.
In fairness to Girardi and the Phillies (22-29), they aren’t the only NL East team watching what was supposed to be a competitive division slip out of reach before the all-star break. The defending World Series champions, the Atlanta Braves, have a losing record and trail the Mets by double digits in the win column, too.
But the Phillies did not spend more on their roster than anyone but the Mets, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers to finish in third place. Their foreseeable weaknesses on defense and in the bullpen have tormented them. The powerful lineup they hoped to rely on has been middling. They have lost 10 one-run games, third most in baseball, and four in extra innings, tied for second most. Three of those extra-innings losses came this week during a particularly painful ending to May.
“Right now,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said, “anything that can happen for us to lose is usually happening.”
Agonizing stretches such as this consume would-be contenders annually, but that offers little consolation to those enduring them because each one feels like its own puzzling affliction. The regularity with which the Phillies’ bullpen and defense have fallen apart, combined with the reliability with which their offense has done just enough to keep them in games, have forged a team that seems capable of losing only in the most demoralizing ways.
That unique affinity for demoralizing losses pushed Girardi’s role in molding a winner to the forefront. He spent much of his pregame time with reporters during the last week dismissing a Philadelphia Inquirer report that suggested the Phillies have been lifeless in recent weeks — and waving aside concerns about his job security with a hint of frustration that no team wants to see in its manager in May.
“I don’t worry about my job,” Girardi told NBC Sports Philadelphia after the Phillies were swept by the Mets in New York last weekend. “I’ve never worried about my job. I don’t worry about my job. I’ve got to do my job.”
The job of leading a Phillies turnaround now falls to Thompson, who Girardi told MLB Network Friday was “the best coach I’ve ever been around” and who “was deserving of this role a long time ago.” Thompson served on Girardi’s coaching staff for six years with the Yankees and became Phillies bench coach ahead of the 2018 season. Thompson inherits a team that went 4-12 to finish May, a team on which three key sluggers — Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos — have on-base-plus-slugging percentages that are at least 150 points lower than in 2021.
“It’s a snowball. It’s a game of momentum,” Realmuto said. “If we win a couple of these close games in a row, maybe the offense starts clicking and we go on a little run.”
“It’s taking us longer to go on that run than we expected,” he added. “But we think it’s right around the corner.”
A few hours into June, that run could not have felt more out of reach. The Phillies had lost seven of eight, many with late-game mistakes. Their best May hitters by average, Jean Segura and Bryce Harper, had been pushed out of the lineup by injuries. Segura broke a finger and will be out for up to three months. Harper has a torn right ulnar collateral ligament and has been limited to designated hitter duties as he waits to see whether a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow will let him play the outfield. He was scheduled to be the DH again Wednesday, but the Phillies scratched him because of forearm soreness, something he later told reporters he doesn’t expect to keep him out of the lineup much longer.
Either way, as the free-falling Phillies entered their June opener against Giants ace Carlos Rodón, owner of the third-highest strikeout rate in the majors, the highest batting average in their lineup was .269. Castellanos and Hoskins spent the moments after they arrived at the ballpark and changed into their warm-up shirts sitting at their lockers, hands on their knees, facing each other, talking about morale.
“Other than the fact that the team isn’t playing to expectations and I’m not playing to expectations, I’m fantastic,” Castellanos said to Hoskins, who chuckled, stood up and offered the only assessment baseball players seem to find when nothing is going right.
“It is what it is,” Hoskins said. Then he headed out to the field to take groundballs.
What it is, so far, is an undeniable disappointment, one that is as easy to understand in some ways as it is confounding in others — so confounding, in fact, that it is not entirely clear that a new manager will be able to engineer a turnaround.
A team built around Harper and sluggers Castellanos, Hoskins and Schwarber owns the 10th-highest home run rate in the majors and the ninth-worst strikeout rate. Among teams with winning records, only the Los Angeles Angels — who arrive at Citizens Bank Park on Friday — are striking out more often. Twelve teams have scored more runs via the homer than the Phillies, who were built to outslug everyone. Ten teams are scoring more runs per game.
Their bullpen ranks in MLB’s bottom third by ERA, and they are fourth with 14 losses in games they led at one time. And their defense has been as limited as expected, if even more troublesome in big spots: They are the worst team in the majors in defensive runs saved at minus-26, meaning Philadelphia’s defense has been 26 runs worse than an average team — and five worse than the next closest team. For a team losing one-run games, built to hit enough that defense won’t matter, it has mattered a great deal.
Whether a manager should be held responsible for the less-than-perfect construction of his roster is one teams answer year after year, disappointing summer after disappointing summer. The Phillies, who played to a 132-141 record in Girardi’s two-plus seasons with the team, seem to believe this roster can win as constructed and that a new voice will be able to lead a turnaround. They will begin testing that hypothesis against the Los Angeles Angels Friday night.