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A full accounting of Gabe Kapler’s first three Phillies games

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A lot happened in the Phillies’ first three games under rookie manager Gabe Kapler! Nearly all of it was bad.

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been three games, giving us all the time we need to measure the skill of a new manager.

In that time, the Phillies were a Peter Bourjos slide away from being swept and used roughly 78 pitchers. They are supposed to play the Mets Monday night at 7:10.

In the interim, we consider what we’ve witnessed. Was that a plan gone awry? A fanatical adherence to numbers? A club adjusting to a new system? A bullpen unprepared for ita new role as a bin of hamburger meat waiting behind the outfield fence?

In any case, it was not fun or good to look at. No one watching the Phillies play this weekend would tell you they just need to iron out the kinks. Here’s a general overview of the events.

Game 1

Odubel Herrera and Jorge Alfaro didn’t start. Right off the bat, Herrera was pissed he wasn’t in the starting lineup. Kapler told him that’s the way he wanted his players to be: hungry, mad, desperate to get on the field. That was one way to look at the predictable situation that had begun immediately: that there are simply too many players for the amount of playing time the Phillies have available. Cameras caught Herrera standing on or near the dugout steps throughout the game, hair exploding from his head, bat desperately fiddled with in his hands. He managed to slip in to replace Rhys Hoskins in the eighth, but no current Phillies outfielder could track down Nick Markakis’ walk-off homer. Alfaro didn’t start either of the Phillies’ first two games, appearing for the first time as a strikeout victim in the 11th inning of game two.

Aaron Nola throws 68 pitches, then Kapler yanks him. So you’re making the start on opening day. The franchise feels like it’s embarking on a fresh start, the offense has backed you up with five runs, and look at that, your young rookie manager is on his way to the mound for what will assuredly be the first of seven allotted ‘congratulations’ on how well you’re doing. The game’s only 68 pitches old, and you’re cruising!

“That’ll do,” he says, reaching for the ball. Sort of stunned, you hand it to him and walk off the field.

In the other team’s dugout, a wave of enthusiasm slowly spreads as they realize their biggest obstacle has been removed from the game. Kapler, following a blueprint he put together that involves not letting his starter face a lineup three times, has gazed into the numbers and seen a victory. The Braves see it differently, and wallop every subsequent Phillies pitcher, mounting an 8-5 comeback win that ends in a walk-off three-run bomb.

Baseball is a game in which everything from a breath of wind to a beach ball on the field can change the game. But there is no more tangible intangible than momentum, which Kapler stopped abruptly and shifted it, all by himself, over to the other dugout.

Just ask the Braves!

Freddie Freeman: “Once they took him out, it was kind of a jolt for us. You wanted to come back. Once they took out a guy like that, it gave us a bolt of energy.”

Preston Tucker: “When Freddie hit that homer, I think that’s really all it took. That was the first ball we really laid into. People fed off that, and good things happened after that.”

UPDATE:

Pat Neshek was unavailable for opening day, which Kapler elected to tell... no one. After Nola was yanked, a long string of relievers followed. None of them were Pat Neshek, and several of the non-Neshek’s coughed up the 5-0 lead. Kapler’s not at fault for the bullpen being bad. But he is at fault for using five relievers in three and a third innings. And no one knew why Kapler wasn’t calling on Neshek.

We found out after the game: He’s got a shoulder strain. Who knew?

The offense was getting on base. Maikel Franco worked two walks on opening day, including one with the bases loaded. Andrew Knapp had a hit and a walk. Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins had multi-hit games. The Phillies’ five runs were knocked in by four different hitters.

Game 2

Gabe Kapler used nine pitchers. Do you pitch for the Phillies? If so, you probably played on Friday. Even if you don’t, there’s a chance you were caught in the whirlwind of the bullpen gate swinging back and forth and wound up on the mound, perplexed as to how you arrived there, but Gabe Kapler wordlessly handing you the ball. Good luck!

This game lasted over four hours. As a direct result of him jamming the “new pitcher” button and laughing uproariously all game long, Kapler extended the length of the Phillies’ second game to four hours and sixteen minutes. In fact, the fastest game this weekend in which the Phillies played lasted three hours and twenty one minutes. One fun addendum to all this is that Kapler is unintentionally sticking a finger in the eye of Rob Manfred’s pace of play operation.

Game 3

The Hoby Milner debacle. To this day, no one is sure what happened when Kapler tried to bring Hoby Milner into the game, despite the reliever not throwing any warm-ups. Umpire Jerry Lane sprung into action and Milner was allowed extra time to warm up on the mound, a decision that caused Kapler to finally, successfully shred what was left of Braves manager Brian Snitker’s sanity. Kapler referred to the moment as a “miscommunication,” which he took responsibility for.

The Phillies lost 15-2. Don’t forget, the one thing that seemed to be sort of working in the team’s first two games also went away for the rubber match. While the Braves logged 19 hits, the Phillies settled for six, two of which belonged to Scott Kingery. The Phillies went 1-for-8 with RISP and left seven runners on base. Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Altherr both went 0-for-4 with 2 SO.

Pedro Florimon pitching was part of some plan. For those wondering, utility infielder Pedro Florimon pitching to end the game wasn’t just a typical move of a team getting crushed late in the game. It was part of a plan Kapler had instituted during the pre-season, when he apparently had Florimon throw off the mound. So, relax. This is all happening according to plan.

Gabe Kapler believes the 2018 Phillies will go to the playoffs. This belief was shared just after answering questions about the bizarrely managed managed series in which the Phillies were painfully outscored 23-10.

The media pounced. Columnists were already salivating on the overwrought language they could use to characterize the Kapler situation by the end of the second game. But now, they had a entire other game full of much worse things to talk about. The gerbil-brained radio voices talked about firing him, the eye-rollingly philosophical columnists waxed on about the repercussions of extremely poor first impressions, and the podcasters took turns piling on with a new set of material from which to pull.