So here we are. The Phillies are 1-2 after a 15-2 loss Saturday night to the Braves. Well, it wasn’t a loss as much as it was a thorough embarrassment.
A number of embarrassing things occurred in this game, but the two that stuck out to everyone – including the entire baseball world – were the following:
- Gabe Kapler came to the mound to relieve Vince Velasquez in the third inning, after allowing five runs on more than 68 pitches, and signaled for left-hander Hoby Milner. Only there was a problem: Milner wasn’t warming up. So Kapler stalled as Milner decided that, yes, he would come into his third-consecutive game, then hastily threw a couple warmup pitches in the bullpen. Umpire Jerry Layne was not happy about this, nor was Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who argued this charade. Snitker was ejected, which seemed misplaced. Anyway, Milner came into the game and finished off the third.
- In the eighth inning, with the Phils down 13-2, Kapler called upon his 10th reliever, utility man Pedro Florimon, to pitch. It seemed like a big heaping pile of karma after removing Aaron Nola far too early in his start Thursday. Florimon, the first ever position player to pitch within the first three games of a major league season (and in March), promptly allowed a home run.
I’m a proponent of using data to help make decisions on field. I believe what Kapler preaches can be put to constructive and successful use. But there are no two ways about it: This three-game series was arduous, sloppy and mismanaged, and if we never have to talk about it ever again, I’d be content.
On top of that, after claiming full responsibility for the clown show we witnessed, Kapler doubled down and guaranteed the Phillies would make the 2018 playoffs.
Look, I want optimism. I need optimism. I love the energy. But this is not the time to say “we’re gonna make the playoffs.” Instead, admit full responsibility, apologize to your reliever who you dragged out of the bullpen without fair warning, apologize to your fans who had to witness such sloppiness, and then do better next time.
Also, back to being a proponent of using data: Kapler is doing what the Dodgers, Astros and other good teams have been doing for a few years now, but one (or three) steps further. There’s a real problem with that, however: This team has Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, and relievers who – let’s be frank – haven’t completely proven themselves capable of getting outs on a consistent basis. I know this because I’ve been watching this team for the last 30-plus years. There’s room to experiment, and there’s room for data, and there’s room for optimism, but there also has to be room for reality: You can’t bet your bullpen’s health and happiness on Velasquez and Pivetta.
And that goes back to Thursday – when your ace gives you that kind of performance, you ride it just a little.
Anyway, I planned to not write this much, because honestly who wants to write about a 15-2 loss?
One last thing: Fans (maybe you’re one of them) will call for Kapler to be fired after three games. I understand why, but I also implore those fans to step back, take a breath, and remember that this is a marathon, and that those who achieve learn from their mistakes.
I also implore those completely against analytics in baseball to look at the Dodgers and Astros, the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs. Those teams all have been using analytics in the front office and dugout to improve themselves, and they’ve all shown that it works. What we’re seeing is a rookie manager having trouble early on, leading a less-talented group, and using approaches we’ve not seen in Philadelphia. If it fails it doesn’t mean analytics fails. That’s unfair and not allowing for nuance.
Anyway, I think we can all agree that we don’t want to watch baseball like that in the future. Nobody does. Here’s hoping the guys right the ship when they reach New York on Monday.