Imagine, if you will, that you are in charge of running a major league baseball team. There are a myriad of details that have to be attended to within your own clubhouse - how is that pitcher’s arm feeling, that hamstring your shortstop tweaked, the guy with the newborn at home who is up at weird hours, maybe someone is feeling a little depressed. These are the types of things that managers have to deal with within the supposedly friendly confines of the clubhouse. We sometimes forget that players not just players, out there to simply amuse and entertain us with their athletic gifts. They have other things going on that need to be tended to with care and sympathy.
And that’s before any decisions are made on the field.
Once there, now there are game situations that can determine the outcome of the game with even the slightest faux pas can bring down showers of anger and rage from fans, radio stations and the like. However, these are the things that managers get paid for and these are the things that we can see out on the open. They’re what drive the teams to win and any move that is made is fair game for second guesses and criticism. Last night was yet another example.
Bryce Harper, the team’s unquestioned MVP, gave the Phillies the lead in the top of the ninth thanks to a moonshot off of Kenley Jansen. Such was the emotions that he felt that as he rounded second base, we saw him let loose with a scream heard throughout the stadium.
The only problem was that now, the bullpen was going to be entrusted with a lead to protect.
This is where some divergence might happen among those that watched it. We now know that Joe Girardi was playing down a few men in the bullpen. Seranthony Dominguez, Corey Knebel and Jeurys Familia were all unavailable for the evening, meaning he was shorthanded to start. When Kyle Gibson was unable to last past the fifth inning, that meant he was going to have to squeeze and massage 12 outs from five of his less than trustworthy relievers. We all know what happened next.
The first questionable part was bringing in James Norwood into the game in the sixth inning, but I’d argue that that decision was based made thanks to roster personnel issues than anything else. By this point, we know what Norwood is - a clear mop-up guy who shouldn’t see the field in any kind of high leverage situation. With the team having just tied it at two in the top of the sixth inning, Norwood was brought in to get through <checks game notes> Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. Even though they have had their struggles this season, they’re still some of the more dangerous hitters in the lineup. Having Norwood face them instead of the “easier” part of the order was the first questionable decision made by Girardi on the night. Why not Nick Nelson in that spot? What about Andrew Bellatti? As we saw, Olson homered to give the lead right back, then Norwood allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases. Bellatti was called upon in an extremely high leverage spot (bases loaded, no one out, late in the game) and managed to escape by only giving up one run and keeping the game from getting out of hand. He did his job. But yet again, Girardi showed questionable judgement bringing in someone who is clearly not able to handle tough spots right now into a part of the order that is the very definition of tough.
The next questionable move was the ninth inning. After the Phillies took the lead, Girardi had a chance to close it out and went with...Nick Nelson. Why is this an issue?
BECAUSE NICK NELSON HAS ALREADY PITCHED IN THE EIGHTH INNING!!!!!
If we knew that the best three relievers Girardi had at his disposal were not going to be coming into the game last night, one would be led to believe he would want his next best option to close out a lead. Girardi has led us to think that Jose Alvarado would be that option since he likes using him in other high leverage innings in the past, but no, this was the night to actually pay attention to matchups.
(Jose) Alvarado was available but they had a string of right-handed hitters coming up and Nellie had just thrown the ball extremely well (in the eighth).
This is simply not excusable. If he is going to trust Alvarado against right handed hitters in other situations that are just as high leverage, there is no reason not to trust him now. It’s just poor judgement yet again.
One of the criticisms that has dogged Girardi since his days in New York has been his bullpen usage. We have gotten on him here and social media has been even more critical. Yet the same decisions seem to keep being made that do not seem to make sense. When asked, Girardi continues to use his manager speak to explain away things, but last night was another example of how this cannot be accepted. If a team that needs as many wins as possible has a lead in another team’s stadium, the manager needs to make sure he is going down with his best pitcher, regardless of matchups. To compound that mistake by sending out a pitcher again after he had already thrown an inning is infuriating to say the least.
Of course, the blame lies almost exclusively at the feet of Girardi, but let’s also not excuse the front office from issues like this. When you’re playing a card game, you have to play the hand you are dealt. Girardi can’t magically conjure up different relievers when he desires; he has to use what he has. There has to be questions asked as to why someone like Norwood continues to remain on the team while someone who is seemingly better in Francisco Morales continues to ply his trade in the minors. Is the front office afraid of losing someone like Norwood to the waiver wire? If so, we have to then question their ability to properly evaluate the talent they have on hand.
Back to Girardi, the same questions about his usage of his bullpen are continuing to fester with no signs of improvement. Games that are that close to being won need to have someone in charge who is going to make sure the team is put in the best position to win that game with his decision making. If the team continues to believe that that person is Girardi, so be it. But if they are wavering at all, the strength of the rest of the National League dictates that perhaps a change needs to be made and soon. Otherwise, the bullpen will be plenty rested when October hits and they are headed home yet again.