Heading into this game I felt more excited than I had in years about opening day.
So right now, even after a half-hour of hindsight, I haven’t felt this angry about a Phillies game in years.
Aaron Nola was on the mound commanding a newly minted 5-0 lead. He was cruising, striking out three while surrendering just two hits. He barely let a Brave hitter get one out of the infield. Then Ender Inciarte knocked a double off the wall. And then, after 68 pitches with one out in the fifth, Gabe Kapler emerged from the dugout to remove Nola from the game.
What followed was the systematic beheading of the Phillies by way of their bullpen. Freddie Freeman, naturally, homered. Ozzie Albies, naturally, homered. As the Braves top hitters willed their team back in the game, Kapler removed his top hitter, Rhys Hoskins, for defensive purposes. Edubray Ramos malfunctioned and let the Braves tie the score. Then, in the ninth, of course, Hector Neris surrendered a dinger to Nick Markakis. A walk-off on opening day, on a day when Nola had a 5-0 lead in the sixth and literally looked like he could go all nine.
Now, I’m not advocating he went all nine. It was the opener, remember, and arms aren’t completely stretched out. But Nola is unequivocally the best pitcher on the staff. Let him go six. Give him up to 80 pitches. He’ll have six days rest until his next start. Lean just a little on him, and then play bullpen roulette in the seventh. Instead Kapler got a little too cute with his decisions; I completely believe in using data to help make decisions, but Kapler forgot to read the room. Nola looked outstanding. It wasn’t the time.
Along with that Kapler let Nola hit in the top of the sixth. If he had such a short leash, why hit him there anyway? All of that, the Hoskins substitution, the failure to protest a failed strike call, and the decision to pinch-hit Pedro Florimon and not Scott Kingery in a key situation all lead up to one obvious truth tonight: Gabe Kapler lost this game.
Yes the bullpen was atrocious and should be able to hold a five-run lead, but Kapler didn’t give his team the best chance to win. And if he’s going to treat every game like it’s the most important game ever, then pitch your damn ace through the sixth.
This was a sickening game. The Braves had no right being back in it. Yes Freeman is a stud. Yes Albies is awesome. But they’re supposed to show up when Nick Pivetta pitches tomorrow, or when Vince Velasquez goes on Saturday. When Nola is out there, you have everything you need to win the game. Kapler took out his best weapon far too soon, and he paid the price.
The Phils are back at it tomorrow. Pivetta will try not to give up three home runs against the Braves. Good luck.