The Phillies are now officially the most exasperating team in baseball. Every single time you think they are done, the team puts together a little run to give you hope. Conversely, each time it looks like they have things figured out and are actually a good team, they completely disintegrate.
There is no need to look any further than this weekend's series in Milwaukee for the quintessential example of the latter. After tearing off five straight wins to climb back above .500 for the first time since they were 81-80 at the tail-end of last season, the Phillies had Cliff Lee hitting the hill on Friday with a chance to keep the positive vibes going.
Lee had only been the best pitcher in the National League over the previous month. So when he took a two-run lead into the bottom of the seventh against a terrible team, Phillies fans everywhere felt it was a sure-win. That's also when they should've realized they were in trouble.
The Brewers tied it in the seventh and then won it in the ninth when manager Charlie Manuel inexplicably decided against using closer Jonathan Pappelbon in a tie game. Luckily the move kept Pappelbon fresh enough to be able to get into the game for mop-up duty in a lopsided loss on Sunday.
Nice job Chuck.
Obviously it is not all the manager’s fault, but at this point I don’t think he is helping anymore. His strength was always supposed to be in creating an atmosphere conducive to winning. During the team’s heyday, Manuel would make mistakes, but more often than not the team was talented enough to overcome them. That was not always the case — see the 2009 World Series and the 2010 NLCS when Joe Girardi and Bruce Bochy managed circles around Charlie, costing the Phillies a shot at two more rings — but for the most part, they won in spite of their manager’s miscues.
This version of the Phillies is simply not talented enough to work past his bumbling of seemingly simple strategy.
A baseball manager has three jobs. Keep his team working together toward the team’s success, keep his team focused on playing smart/winning baseball and to handle his bench and bullpen late in games. Manuel thrives at part one, butchers part three and seems to come up smaller and smaller each season in department two.
The Phillies make plays that I don’t witness in A-Ball with the Blue Rocks. They seem to play defense without knowledge of the number of outs, all the time. They throw to the wrong base. They are aggressive when they should be conservative and passive when the time comes to take a chance or two. Multiple times this season we have witnessed guys getting thrown out on the base paths in spots where they never should be running, and we also have seen multiple examples of a lack of hustle costing them.
These are things the manager is responsible for. It is his job to make sure everyone is dialed in. He needs to come up with a message his players both buy and respond to. Manuel seems to be doing neither.
Sure his team lacks talent, particularly in the bullpen, but they have enough good players to be a playoff team, particularly if Dom Brown continues to channel his inner Babe Ruth. Manuel needs to get them paying attention to detail and it also would help if he could stop butchering late-game strategy.
Making a move just to say you did it, is not the answer. Manuel has had enough success to deserve better than that. BUT, if Charlie doesn’t start to get out of his own team’s way, then maybe a new voice in charge is exactly the spark the Phillies need.
They cannot keep being this up-and-down. Their only consistent trait is their inconsistency, which means it is time for Charlie to either fix it, or for Ryne Sandberg to get his chance. It sounds rough, but baseball is a rough business. Nobody knows that better than Manuel.