No one is going to sit here and tell you Ryne Sandberg has been put in the best possible position to succeed. It's clear the Phillies manager has been saddled with a team that has less talent on it than any other since perhaps the 2001 season.
Other than Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, there really are no All Stars on the roster. The offense, while hot lately, is not teeming with difference-makers. The rotation, after Hamels and Harang, is unreliable. And the bullpen, well, you're never quite sure what you're going to get from them on a nightly basis.
The Phillies are not constructed to be a winning team. It's not surprising they lose more often than they win.
But even acknowledging all that, there is this indisputable truth. On many occasions this season, Ryne Sandberg's questionable managerial decisions has made a bad situation worse.
Sunday's mental meltdown in the seventh inning of the Phils' 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals was just the latest example. With Denard Span on 3rd, two out, and the Phillies down 2-1, right-handed pitcher Justin De Fratus was on the mound and the hottest hitter in the land, the left-handed hitting Bryce Harper, was due up.
The decision here was a no-brainer. You walk Harper to put runners on 1st and 3rd with two outs so that the right-handed De Fratus can face the right-handed hitting Ryan Zimmerman. Most big league managers know to do this. This should not have been difficult.
Instead, Sandberg decided to bring in struggling left-hander Jake Diekman, he of the 7.63 ERA, to face Harper with 1st base open and two out. Harper promptly hit a single to left scoring Span. Then, to make matters worse, Sandberg left Diekman in to face the right-handed hitting Zimmerman, who doubled off the wall in center to make it 4-1 Nats.
Perhaps the Phillies were never going to score again on Sunday and they were going to lose 2-1 anyway. It's impossible to say Sandberg COST them Sunday's game. But his decisions in that fateful 7th inning certainly helped assure them they wouldn't win it.
But these kinds of decisions are nothing new. Sandberg has made one puzzling decision after another all season long, decisions that have cost the Phils runs and scoring opportunities.
When Freddy Galvis was piling up three-hit games like it was a bodily function, Sandberg continued to bat him 8th in the lineup. He routinely has his relief pitchers throw more than 30 pitches in back-to-back outings (he did that with De Fratus earlier this year) and so far at least three different Phils relievers have outings of more than 50 pitches this season (De Fratus, Diekman and Jeanmar Gomez).
And in one memorable blow-up against Miami this year, he let Ken Giles come out for a second inning after the second-year reliever had worked a long inning the previous inning. The end result, a walk-off win for the Marlins, could be seen coming a mile away.
Look, this isn't mindless nit-picking. Sandberg is trying to build and grow a roster of young players. Burning out the young arms in the 'pen is the last thing you want your manager to do. Not only that, it has also cost them baseball games this season.
And while it has become less of an issue over the last couple weeks, Sandberg's tendency to over-bunt (like having a hitter sacrifice runners over with two on and no out) and rely on "small ball" has rarely worked. For example, in a game against the Braves last month, Cody Asche came to the plate with the game tied at zero in the 8th inning. There were runners on 1st and 3rd with no one out and, at the time, Asche was pretty hot.
For reasons passing understanding, Asche bunted. Utley, the runner on 3rd, wasn't going to score on that bunt, and the only other logical explanation would be that Sandberg wanted Asche to bunt Francoeur over to 2nd to create a 2nd and 3rd and one out situation.
But here's the problem with that line of thinking, as Eric Chesterton so ably pointed out the day after.
While the intentions behind the bunt remain unclear, it is abundantly clear that the call was the wrong one independent of execution. According to data from 1993-2010, there is a 65% chance a run will score in an inning when runners are at first and third and one out. Say Asche didn't intend to score Utley with the bunt, but simply advance Frenchy to second on a sacrifice. In that outcome, which seems the most likely, the Phillies chances of scoring in the inning would drop to 28%.
Sandberg claimed Asche was bunting on his own in that spot, but I'm skeptical of that. Knowing those percentages is the type of thing a Major League manager should know and raise your hand if you think Sandberg is one of them.
We all want a manager that thinks, acts and manages like Joe Maddon of the Cubs. Someone forward thinking, outside the box, who doesn't give outs away and whose players love him. Someone good at developing young players, putting them in a position to succeed.
Someone not like this.
FFS Ryne Sandberg quoting batting average over 9 game sample size as a mark of MLB readiness pic.twitter.com/JBJw5sESGq— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) April 28, 2015
What's even more perplexing is that no one in the dugout seems to be able to stop Sandberg from this madness. His bench coach Larry Bowa, hitting coach Steve Henderson, pitching coach Bob McClure, first base coach Juan Samuel, third base coach Pete Mackanin, none of these guys has been able to tackle Sandberg and stop him, or at least talk him out of some of the things he's done wrong.
Guys, help your boss out.
There are more examples of Sandberg's missteps that I'm forgetting. And to be fair, Sandberg has made some decent calls this year, too.
But the Phillies don't have a lot of talent on the roster, and there's little margin for error on a nightly basis. The team has a manager that is not putting his players in the best positions to succeed, and it seems as though at least once a week, if not more, Sandberg is doing something to hurt the situation, not help it.
Sunday in Washington was just the latest example.