One hundred and fifty-nine games to go. Phillies fans don’t want to hear it. They don’t care if the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves are 0-3. They don’t care if the Marlins aren’t scoring either, or if Roy Halladay looked like his old self. They don’t care that the Giants’ aces got rocked, Mariano Rivera blew a save, or that the Mariners are leading the AL West. The only things the fans want to know right now are, why are the Phillies 1-2? And, is it going to be like this all season?
I’ve said many times that Philly fans still haven’t learned how to handle a successful team. They’re like an executive chef at a fine dining restaurant that still runs around like they’re a line cook at Outback. There’s no poise and little patience, so when the Phillies start the season with a near worst-case scenario series against the Pirates it makes the fans very uncomfortable. Pushes them to the brink of panic even, after 1.8% of the season. I understand the position to a certain extent. A lost Phillies season would be an incredible disappointment, but we aren’t quite there yet.
For me, there was only two real problem that emerged from the 1st three games. Saying the Phillies have to hit more, or have to protect 3-run leads in the 7th is obvious. If they score 2 runs a game and blow saves, they aren’t going anywhere. If you’re worried about that, you’re wasting your time. But what concerns me is the Phillies are giving away outs they shouldn’t give away and appear to be making some dubious tactical decisions. Allow me to explain…
The “small ball” talk has been beaten into the ground. Ditto for the “change in approach.” You can see the Phillies are trying. It’s just misguided effort. Jimmy Rollins is bunting, the team is playing for one run instead of waiting for a big inning, and doing things outwardly that a team trying to win close games should do–but there’s a problem. The Phillies don’t have the personnel to play this way. Or, I should say, it doesn’t really play to their strengths. Granted, without a 3 and 4 hitter, those strengths are limited.
What no one seems to realize about small ball is that it’s not something you do as a response to injuries or declining power. In its true form it’s an actual strategy, not a plan-B. To play small ball you have to string hits together, put pressure on the defense with your speed and execute in run scoring situations. You need high on-base guys that can handle the bat. The Phillies lineup is almost completely devoid of this type of hitter. It has been for years. You can’t take high swing and miss guys and expect them to suddenly not strike out with a guy on 3rd and one out. The Phillies brought in Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome and are expecting them to play like Jay Bell just because they are asked to. Doesn’t work that way.
The pessimistic way to say this would be, “Phillies Offense Not Good Enough to Play Small Ball.” That’s pretty ominous, correct? It’s true, though. They shouldn’t be bunting. They shouldn’t be giving up outs, because they aren’t good enough to sacrifice the out. If the guy on deck is equally likely to strike out as hit a fly ball, why bunt someone over? If the bottom of the order is a black hole of double plays, you need multiple run innings from the top of the order not painstakingly produced single runs. If there’s a guy on 2nd and zero outs and the next three hitters are Nix, Wigginton and Galvis I think you take the chance one of them gets a base-hit. Because Nix probably won’t get the bunt down and even if he does, there’s a reasonable chance Wigginton punches out, or pops up. That’s the kind of hitter he is. And if Nix does get a hit then you could actually be looking at a big inning for once.
Jimmy Rollins can’t be bunting in the 3rd hole unless he’s leading off an inning. It makes no sense. Charlie saying, “he did that on his own,” is not acceptable. If there’s a chance Rollins bunts there, you give him the swing away sign. If Rollins gets a base-hit, you’re looking at probably a 2-run inning at worst. If he bunts, it becomes a 2-run inning at best. If he strikes out or pops up, you still have two men on and 1 out for your best hitter, Hunter Pence. Laynce Nix should never bunt again and in general the Phillies shouldn’t be sac-bunting in the early innings. It sends the wrong message. It tells the team you don’t think they can score and it tells the other team you don’t have confidence in your offense. The Phillies shouldn’t be taking the approach that 3 or 4 runs is great. They need to set out at the beginning of every game playing like they always did and then if it gets close late you can play for 1 run if you want to, but the Phillies are leaving too many potential runs on base in the early innings while trying to force one across.
The other issue appears to be Manuel’s handling of the bullpen and his late-inning decisions. Charlie was almost run out of town for these foibles early in his tenure but then years of winning changed his image as a manager. Well, it looks like Charlie is still the same old tactician. His decision to not walk Andrew McCutchen in the 9th on Sunday is not defensible in my opinion. I don’t care if Rod Barajas is 20 for 20 against the Phillies. He’s still Rod Barajas and McCutchen is still the Pirates best hitter…by a mile. Once again the Phillies seem to have a bullpen with arms that Charlie isn’t very comfortable using and his too-frequent pitching changes (in my opinion) have mostly backfired through one series. Surely we don’t want Kendrick, Blanton and Herndon pitching close and late. If Charlie wants to get creative, maybe use Papelbon in the 8th against the middle of the order and then leave the bottom of the order to Bastardo in the 9th yesterday? If Papelbon doesn’t come through, or if they blow the lead in the 9th Charlie would look foolish, but how foolish does it look when you lose two straight games in the final inning with your best reliever still in the bullpen?
The good news is, I think what really plagues the Phillies are fixable mistakes. I think they’ll quit the early game bunting, and I think the bullpen situation will eventually sort itself a little better. No team, no matter how bad they are, makes a habit out of blowing 3-run leads in the 7th inning, so it’s probably a bit too easy to overreact to Sunday’s game in particular. Until the Phillies get some people back, this season is going to take some patience. In the meantime, hopefully Charlie gets a little better at making moves and the Phillies put the players back into positions where they’re comfortable. Speaking of which, the lineup should be:
- (1st Baseman)
See? Everything’s fixed! Hopefully the Phils can get back on track behind Cole Hamels this afternoon. If not, I fear the reaction.