The Phillies won a game today by two runs; it was a game they were leading 7-0 at one point. It’s the second game in the last 25 where they had a lead of at least seven and came very close to losing (Miami Marlins, 4/27, won 12-9 in a game they were leading 10-1). One of the reasons this game ended up being so close is because manager Gabe Kapler mismanaged the bullpen and unfortunately this seems to be a trend. In what’s shaping up to be a very close division race the Phillies shouldn’t be - they can’t be - giving away games, Every single one will seemingly matter and they can’t afford missteps.
Earlier in the series vs the Cubs the Phillies entered the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead. They needed three outs to go up 2-0 in a four game series. What’s truly odd is that the pitcher Kapler called on to secure the final innings worth of outs was Juan Nicasio. The Phillies right hander had been good lately but he’s definitively not the guy to go through the Cubs 3-4-5 hitters in the ninth inning of a one-run game. Predictably, which is often the case with Kapler’s bullpen decisions, Nicasion blew the save by giving up two runs before he could get two outs. Nicasio has appeared in 333 games in his career and has notched only nine saves so it’s unclear what exactly Kapler was thinking.
Kapler made a similar questionable call in game one of the series when he tried to trot out Seranthony Dominguez for a second inning of work. Again, predictably it didn’t go well. Dominguez did have a clean, efficient first inning of work but to expect that you could throw him back out there for a second inning for the first time all year and think it’ll go well is…not that smart. What’s worse with the move was that Kapler didn’t even get someone up as an “in case” pitcher, where if there was instant trouble for Dominguez he could put the fire out immediately with someone else. As it turns out Dominguez walked the first batter of his second inning of work on four pitches and then ran the count to 3-1 on his second batter before walking him as well and then, following a sacrifice bunt, gave up a two run triple. The Phils entered the inning leading 3-1 and left it down 4-3.
And then in the final game of the series with one out in the sixth Kapler pulled a seemingly in-control Aaron Nola. He had thrown 93 pitches but the Phils were leading 8-3 so it wasn’t as if the game was in a high leverage situation at the time. He could have easily let Nola finish out the inning and it would’ve been a better bet than anyone he had in the ‘pen. It’s as if Kapler had a plan for the rest of the game and assumed that what was in his mind was exactly what was going to happen. It didn’t and the game got closer and closer as the Cubs continued to get on base and hit home runs, which left Kapler scrambling to find someone who could finish the game. As it turned out he was forced to use Hector Neris for four outs and like with Dominguez two games before, Neris had to leave the mound in the eighth for the Phils to bat and like Dominguez, when he returned he was a completely different pitcher. He gave up one run (a double to a reliever who was pinch hitting – after Neris had walked the first two batters) and stranded the tying runs at second and third.
Most late-inning relievers aren’t built to go out and pitch after sitting for a half inning. It’s a huge break from their normal routine and there’s a reason why managers don’t push their luck by continually asking relievers to do this. It’s odd that Kapler doesn’t seem to understand this.
They ended up splitting the four game set but they could have easily taken three of four. And if it wasn’t for some heroics in game one where JT Realmuto bailed out Kapler’s moves with a tenth inning home run, they’d be leaving Chicago having lost three.
These examples are just from the last series. The issues seem to systemic with Kapler. They’ve lost quite a few games that they should’ve won if just one “better move” was made.
It goes a bit beyond bullpen moves as well. In general the Phillies play a very sloppy, undisciplined baseball. They frequently, like almost-every-game-frequently, make some type of mistake that leads to runs. These aren’t necessarily errors but they’re just as bad.
There was a recent game against Milwaukee that exemplifies the situation perfectly. The Phillies lost 5-2 and you could honestly say that not a single one of the Brewers runs should have scored.
The first run scored was scored by Lorenzo Cain. Sean Rodriguez (playing third) apparently wasn’t ready when a routine grounder twas hit to him to lead off the game. Cain, who should have never been on base to begin with, eventually came around to score.
More “not quite earned” runs scored in the third inning. The bases were loaded and Brewers pitcher Gio Gonzalez was able to thoroughly confuse Rodriguez using nothing more than sheer stupidity when a groundball was hit right at the third basemen. Rodriguez fielded the ball a few feet from the third base bag, where Gio decided he wouldn’t run despite it being a force play all around. Rodriguez was completely lost. He could have easily tagged Gonzalez, stepped on third and threw to first for one of the simplest triple plays you’ll ever see but instead he decide to do none of that. He danced what appeared to be a little move from a good ole’ country line dance and threw the ball home leaving just enough time to get only the force out there and that’s it. A walk and a single later and the Brewers added three more runs to their total.
And how did Gio Gonzalez get on base to begin with? He, a pitcher hitting .092 for his eight years in the National League, was walked…to lead of an inning. That’s just bad.
The final run scored when Andrew McCutchen somehow missed a fairly routine fly ball to center with a runner on third.
Maybe Kapler, in only his second year of managing a team, isn’t up for this task? There are plenty of excuses that could be used but in the end excuses aren’t going to cut it. And there isn’t really an excuse for not having your players playing cleaner baseball than the Phillies currently are. At often times it seems as though they’re winning despite themselves.
Yes, the Phillies are currently in first place. But they were in first place for a majority of last season too and because they hadn’t built any room between themselves and the rest of the division, by the time it was all said and done they finished in third. And this isn’t last season where expectations were low. Money’s been spent, stars acquired and anything short of some post-season baseball isn’t going to be tolerated.