This is what happens when you build a team to lose.
Young players ignore basic baseball tenets. Veterans protect their own best interests. What should be a collection of professionals evolving as a unit instead devolves into a group of mercenaries punching a clock, cashing a check and marking time.
No one expected the Phillies to exceed .500 in their second year of a rebuild. Then again, no one expected them to win 52 games, either, which is the pace they'd set after Monday's loss in Arizona — and we use the word "action" loosely here. They are, by any measure, one of the worst offensive teams in baseball, even though they play their home games on a glorified softball field. If you want action, just wait until their pitchers take over; again, bottom five in almost every measurable.
This is understandable. These are growing pains. Philadelphia just endured four years of humiliation with the Sixers but accepted it with a degree of equanimity because Process architect Sam Hinkie was brilliant and personable; owner Josh Harris is a billionaire makeover artist; and head coach Brett Brown is part Amway salesman, part air-traffic controller: "I'll make Embiid the next Wilt and Simmons the next LeBron. Just keep your flaps down, and don't panic." Brown has somehow kept the various iterations of the Sixers from combusting.
Mack needs to attack: To this point, Pete Mackanin is no Brett Brown.
It falls to Mackanin, the Phillies' manager, to control the current epidemic of insubordination. It's not as if he hasn't been around. Mackanin has been a professional baseball man for 47 years. He has some superb lieutenants, such as bench coach Larry Bowa and third-base coach Juan Samuel ... but Mackanin has served just one full season as a major league manager. This is his second. If his team doesn't halt its descent into chaos, it will surely be his last.
He is, by nature, a negotiator, a nurturer, a teacher. For the most part that's fine, especially with a team of young players who make a lot of mistakes. But he can't just be soft-spoken Uncle Pete.
Mack needs to attack.
He needs to bench the next guy who acts in his own best interests. Heck, he needs to bench the guys who have already acted selfishly. He needs to call a meeting where he lays out, with perfect and profane clarity, that he is the boss, they are the employees, and when the umpires are on the field, their feelings and their freedoms are forfeited.
Inmates running asylum: Managers tell you paint-peeling team meetings don't help much. Well, one certainly couldn't hurt this array of disinterested divas. Mackanin's chosen responses make it clear that the inmates are running his asylum.
On May 10, after giving up five earned runs in the seventh inning, veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit skewered Mackanin for not pitching him in only the eighth inning. Never mind that Benoit had pitched in the eighth inning in his previous seven outings and hadn't pitched in five days.
Mackanin's response: He talked to Benoit ... who, in his 15 outings since, been used outside of the eighth inning in a meaningful appearance just twice.
On Wednesday, scatterbrained centerfielder Odubel Hererra blatantly ignored a stop sign from Samuel and was thrown out at the plate by 20 feet — with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game. Hererra admitted not only to ignoring the stop sign but to willfully never even looking for it. The Phillies lost in extra innings.
Mackanin's response: He benched Herrera for the rest of the game, as part of a double-switch. He then started Herrera the next day. Herrera responded by getting picked off third base by the catcher, then not running with two outs and a full count on the batter. On Friday, Samuel was seen very publicly talking to Herrera, a clumsy effort to imply that the staff was taking the matter in hand.
Also on Wednesday, Mackanin said veteran reliever Pat Neshek informed him he was too sore to pitch. After the game, Neshek said the day off was Mackanin's idea. The next day, Neshek threw five pitches in the eighth inning ... then declined to pitch the ninth inning. After the game, Neshek claimed Mackanin had never asked him to pitch the ninth.
Mackanin's response: He talked to Neshek. He acknowledged "miscommunication."
Neshek doesn't want to pitch much because he wants to protect his numbers. He will be 37 in September and he doesn't want to help a team built to lose. He wants to make himself as attractive as possible at the trade deadline and in free agency this winter. The same is true of Benoit, who will be 40 in a month.
Here's what should've been done: What should Mackanin have done?
Whenever possible, he should have pitched Benoit in every inning except the eighth.
He should communicate to Neshek that he pitches whenever Mackanin needs him. If Neshek says he can't, Mackanin should keep diming him out. If Neshek complains of soreness and fatigue too much, then general manager Matt Klentak should send him off for an MRI. Think that'll help Patty's trade value?
As for Herrera, well, a nice, long bench stint might help focus him. When the Phillies are in the field, have him sit next to Samuel, who can quiz him on what the opposition's baserunners should be thinking and doing.
Sit him next to Bowa.