The Phillies lost a very important game to the Atlanta Braves last night by the score of 9-2. The game was, like many others, winnable at one point in the middle innings but it quickly got away from them, to the point where the deficit was just unsurmountable. This seems to happen a lot and it seems to be the result of “nonintervention.”.
The Philies average almost five runs per game so when the other team gets to five runs it’s imperative that you stop them there lest you reach a point where the game is unwinnable.
In last night’s game it was 5-1 in the sixth inning when Cole Irvin came in for relief. Presumably Irvin was to face the left-handed hitters and take them out while allowing minimal damage from the righties. It didn’t work out that way and two outs later the Phillies were down 9-1.
When Cole Irvin hit the first batter and then gives up a base hit to the second batter, both the lefties he was supposed to handle, shouldn’t the manager recognize that it may not be his night? Irvin’s strong suit is dealing with lefties and now he’s failed at that and a rightie is up. The platoon advantage only exists where the pitcher is effective and Irvin at that point had shown that he was not effective with the advantage so why keep him in?
Keep him in is exactly what Phillies manager Gabe Kapler did and sure enough those two baserunners and two more just like ‘em came around to score. By the end of the sixth inning – an inning that started with the Phillies still in the game – they’re down by eight. The Braves scored four runs on one hit thanks to a hit-by-pitch and three walks. They didn’t even have to do anything other than stand there in the batter’s box and let the pitcher unravel and put the game out of reach, something Kapler seemed more than willing to do. The Phillies are not coming back from an eight run deficit in the sixth inning. Sorry, they’re not. Down by four with four innings of at-bats to go? Maybe. But not eight.
This game felt close before that inning. The Phillies had some opportunities that they hadn’t capitalized on and it was only four runs against a bullpen that average 4.73 runs per game. They were in this game before that sixth inning but they were decidedly out of it after it.
What makes this whole scenario even more peculiar, where peculiar is a synonym for inexcusable, is that the Phillies were coming off a light week where they had two off days, one of which was the day before. One would have to assume that everybody in that bullpen was available, everybody. And for some reason Kapler keeps what’s arguably not the best option in even when he starts the inning poorly.
Last night’s scenario is way too common for this team. We often hear that “no one is panicking” and that the team still feels the season could be successful and perhaps that’s why the relaxed attitude towards letting those sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth runs score. Because in the manager’s eyes this game isn’t so important as to cut the bleeding when those first two runners reach base. Presumably – HOPEFULLY – Kapler wouldn’t keep Cole Irvin in a game he had to win, like a wildcard game or a game five. But if he saw last night’s game as…not necessary…then yeah, leaving Irvin in and rolling the dice that he can get out of it is an okay call.
But last night’s game – and any game going forward against a team that sits in front of them in the race to the playoffs, be it divisional or wildcard – is important. They NEED to win these games as if they were “deciding games in the post-season” because in a sense, they are.
The Phillies lost last night’s game by seven runs. The Phillies have lost 10 games this season by seven runs or more and their -46 run differential in those games is the fifth worst run differential in baseball. The teams they share the bottom of that ranking with are the worst teams in baseball, like the Seattle Mariners and the Miami Marlins, both of whom actually have better run differentials in those games. When you sort that same list by win percentage, seven of the top 10 teams would be in the playoffs, including five of the six division leaders, which only goes to show that the stat is relevant in determining the quality of the team, at least to a degree.
When Irvin came in it was 5-1, a four run margin of victory. When the Phillies are in games decided by four runs or less they actually have a winning record at 36-33. This isn’t to say that the Phillies would have overcome that deficit and won last night’s game but it’s provided as a measuring stick to elucidate what happens when the game is kept close.
The Phillies could have left this three-game home-series down in the division by only 2.5 games. The absolute best they can hope for now is to finish it out by only 4.5, gaining only one game instead of three. These are pretty important games and it would be nice to see the manager convey that to the team by his actions. But hey, according to him there’s no need to worry.