PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Phillies are trying to make the postseason for the first time since 2011. The team that general manager Matt Klentak constructed is expected to win, which means advancing to the playoffs — especially with an expanded eight-team field — should happen.
But it’s not a given with only six games left. The Phils are only a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and Gabe Kapler’s San Francisco Giants for the final National League spot.
Monday night’s 5-1 loss to the Nationals — where the Phillies struck out 13 times and produced only six hits — was not a good start to their very important week. But what happened on the field wasn’t the only thing to catch headlines.
Before the game, Klentak spoke with the media about a variety of pertinent topics, including one that’s especially important to fans: J.T. Realmuto.
The All-Star catcher is in the final year of his contract. He’s arguably the best at his position in the sport. Any team would value his talents. It’s especially important for the Phils to extend him because of what they gave up to acquire him from the Marlins prior to the 2019 season.
Out of the players the Phillies sent to Miami, pitching prospect Sixto Sánchez was the prize. The 22-year-old made his major league debut this season, and he’s been excellent with a 2.75 ERA in 36 innings through six starts, all ahead of Tuesday's games.
The Phillies had the unenviable experience of playing against his triple-digit heater on Sept. 13. Sánchez pitched a seven-inning complete-game victory against the organization that sent him to a division opponent — one that is currently in front of the Phillies in the standings.
Since Sánchez is proving to be the real deal, and losing Realmuto in free agency would arguably make that trade for naught, Klentak was asked if there is any added pressure to get a deal done with how well Sánchez has pitched.
“We would love to have J.T. here, but when you make that trade, you’re trading for two years of control, and you know that,” Klentak said. “Sixto looked really good against us. He’s looked good this year, but we’ve had two very productive years of J.T. as well.”
If for whatever reason the Phillies do not retain Realmuto, it will be considered a massive failure. And, assuming Sánchez has an outstanding career, it will go down as one of the worst trades in Philadelphia sports history.
Yes, that sounds dramatic. But the early returns on Sánchez are showing what he can develop into. That makes re-signing Realmuto essential.
Klentak has stated multiple times the organization wants Realmuto to be a Phillie for a long time. The economics of the industry may make that difficult, but it doesn’t diminish the importance of that happening.
Klentak is in his fifth year as general manager — with no winning record in the past four years. Heading into Tuesday’s action, the current one is 27-27 in a shortened 60-game season.
A winning record is not the only goal, though. This team intends on making the playoffs.
Prior to the question about Realmuto, Klentak was asked if the Phils need to make the postseason to ensure he remains the general manager in 2021.
“Right now our focus is on the next seven games,” he said, “and if we take care of business in the next seven games, I think then we can start looking forward to what will hopefully be an exciting October. After the season is over, we can look back and kinda go through the postmortem.”
If the Phils are able to use the top of their rotation — namely, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler — in a three-game series, Klentak likes their chances.
“I wouldn’t think there are many teams that are gonna want to face the Phillies in a first-round matchup,” he said. “We need to get there, and that’s the focus of this week.”
Klentak said he’s proud of this club for the adversity they faced this season, whether it be issues related to COVID-19 or injuries.
Like the question about his future, Klentak chose not to directly address his definition for a successful season in this crazy year. Instead, Klentak highlighted how the 2020 campaign has been about adjusting.
“That’s probably gonna be the thing about the 2020 season that we remember most whenever it’s done,” he said, “just how much so many people have needed to adjust.”
That’s not just players and coaches who had to adjust, but also fans, who have not been able to attend games.
“There have just been so many adjustments necessary to get the regular season in, and I’m certain there will be more in October,” Klentak added. “We need to sort of take all of that into consideration, but I think we can talk about that after the season.”