Lets approach last nights game against the Boston Red Sox in a logical progression using some truths weve learned in the 2017 Phillies season to date:
- The Phillies are not good.
- Because its not a good baseball team, there is a razor-thin escape hatch for error if the Phils want to win games against good teams.
- That margin decreases when the Phils play a good team on the road.
- The Boston Red Sox, at 35-28, are a good team.
- The margin for error when playing the Red Sox on the road is super razor thin.
- The Phillies have a bad bullpen, with seemingly one outstanding pitcher at the moment, Pat Neshek.
- Nesheks value should be maximized in high-leverage situations to maximize the Phillies chances to win against a good team on the road.
There you have it. A logical train of reasoning for how the Phillies should be managing the bullpen and, in particular, Neshek. Unfortunately, the Phillies, and in particular Pete Mackanin, completely kicked it on maximizing Nesheks value Monday.
He came on in the seventh in relief of Jerad Eickhoff, who dodged trouble to make it through six innings and depart with a 5-4 lead. Neshek and his 0.75 ERA entered and threw seven pitches – just seven – to retire the side.
Instead of bringing Neshek back for the eighth, Mackanin looked to fresh-off-the-disabled-list Joaquin Benoit in the inning. He got the first two outs pretty easily, then gave up a game-tying home run to Hanley Ramirez.
And here we are, dissecting a move that seemed rather Meh at the time but underscores many of the problems the Phillies have had since opening day.
The old ways of managing a bullpen in a close game when youre winning – six innings from the starter, one each from two set-up men and one from the closer – are over. Anyone who has watched the evolution of the major league bullpen for the last decade could have told you that, and Terry Francona proved it during last years playoffs.
Baseball is a game of value predictions right now. When your best reliever in a tired and under-performing bullpen throws just seven pitches, you send him back out for the next inning. End of story. No matter what the script youre running says, you send him back out there.
Just one of the benefits, should things get hairy: Youre not trying to coax three (!) innings out of someone named Casey Fien if the game goes extras.
Many times in these spaces weve said since the 2016 season ended that this season would be a tell-all about the players the Phillies want or dont want as part of their rebuilding process. But we often forgot to talk about the manager and coaching staff in that equation. Now, that staff has shown a material inability to make in-game adjustments almost from Day 1, a frightening truth for a franchise with such a razor-thin margin for error.
Its not time for pitchforks and torches, as its not our job as fans to tell ownership when it’s the right time to cleanse a coaching staff.
But it is our job to point logically to the mistakes that have been made to this point.