Coming into this series, the Phillies were the team loaded with playoff experience while the Diamondbacks were the hot, up and coming upstart. I wrote about how the league should be learning to win in October much like the Phillies have, but at this point, it does not seem like Torey Lovullo has heeded that advice. So far in the series, Lovullo has helped the Phillies more often than he has helped his own team.
Game one was the one where Arizona had their ace on the mound and the best chance they had at stealing a game in Citizens Bank Park. Corbin Carroll was kissed by the BABIP gods with a broken bat single off of Zack Wheeler and Lovullo was presented with his first opportunity to show the Phillies that he was going to be at the vanguard of aggressiveness. Having the presumptive NL Rookie of the Year on base to open the game felt like a golden opportunity to establish some dominance on the basepaths. It’s something Rob Thomson talked about prior to the series beginning.
“I didn’t have to read the reports to know that they’re really athletic and they have a lot of speed,” Thomson said. “They play tremendous defense. They cover a lot of space. They run. And when you think they’re done running, they’re going to run some more.”
However, as Matt Gelb notes in the above article, Arizona hasn’t run as much lately.
The Diamondbacks stole 17 bases in 20 attempts in the season’s final 15 games. They’re good at it, but other teams watching them noted that they relied less on the running game down the stretch.
That hesitation showed again when Carroll didn’t move from first base in the opening game. He stayed planted on first base and watched as Wheeler began his stretch of 15 straight batters retired with nary a desire to go towards second. It was a chance to get aggressive against a superior opponent and Lovullo chose not to.
In game two, another curious move led to the floodgates opening for the Phillies offense. Rather a move Lovullo didn’t make that might have kept his team in it a bit longer.
Through five innings, Merrill Kelly had kept the Phillies somewhat in check. Yes, the two hits he gave up where solo home runs, but for the most part, he gave the Diamondbacks pretty much everything they could have asked for. With Kyle Schwarber and Harper due up in the sixth, that felt like the right time to begin using the main relief options Lovullo has at his disposal, particularly one of his left-handed options.
Instead - nothing.
Lovullo sat on his hands and watched Schwarber go deep for the second time in the game, the third time in the series. In fact, Lovullo did not even get Joe Mantiply, a left-hander, up and loosening until Harper was already in the batter’s box. To his credit, Kelly was able to get Harper and Alec Bohm out before Mantiply was ready, but the way the offense was being handled by Aaron Nola to that point, it looked like runs were going to be scarce for the Diamondbacks offense. Why not be aggressive with the bullpen in a game that was as close to must win as it could be and go to a left-handed option to begin the inning? Schwarber’s home run, though not a massive change in win expectancy, did shift it from 84.3% to 90.9%, making it almost a virtual lock for the Phillies. Hindsight is 20/20, but I do wonder what the game would have looked like had Arizona been able to keep that inning at 2-0 instead of 6-0 when the sixth was finally over.
Arizona is at a disadvantage in the series when it comes to depth and talent. To be able to get off the mat and come back make any noise, Lovullo needs to start managing more aggressively. For the Phillies, they’ll take it. There was never really a threat that they’d lose either of the previous two games, but they’ve been made a lot easier. We’ll just have to see how game three goes.