Let’s be honest: managing an MLB team is likely a lot tougher than it looks. Deciding on what players to use, when to use them, and how to manage a bullpen are decisions that appear easy from the safety of a sofa or recliner. Making the decisions – and standing by those decisions – is much tougher when standing in the dugout while having to answer to upper management and the media. And Gabe Kapler has made some interesting decisions so far.
Still, fans and management alike have certain expectations about the leader of the ball club. Mistakes are bound to happen, but a manager will always be in the spotlight when a team struggles. In the case of the Philadelphia Phillies, they dropped their opening series of 2018 to the Atlanta Braves while manager Gabe Kapler was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Gabe Kapler Off to an Interesting Start
Opening Day began with a fantastic start for the Phillies. OF Rhys Hoskins drove in a run in the top of the first inning to provide an early lead. That lead grew in the sixth, thanks to a Cesar Hernandez home run among other things. The Phillies chased Atlanta starter Julio Teheran in the sixth and carried a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth.
To that point, Atlanta had managed just two hits and a walk off of Phillies starter Aaron Nola. Despite cruising with a shutout into the sixth inning, Kapler pulled Nola after just 68 pitches with a runner on second and Freddie Freeman at the plate. Kapler’s reasoning was Nola’s struggles on his third time through a batting order over his career, but the decision was questioned by many at the time.
Whether Nola would have made it deeper into the game without allowing any damage is an interesting question. No one can say for certain, but what we can say is that the Phillies bullpen completely fell apart. Directly following Nola’s departure, Freeman launched a two-run home run to put the Braves on the board. Atlanta would go on to complete the five-run comeback and win on a Nick Markakis homer in the ninth inning. For the game, the Phillies bullpen was charged with three home runs, seven runs scored, and six earned runs.
Game 2 of the season would bring Kapler his first win with Philadelphia, but it did not come without a bit of confusion itself. Kapler would go to the bullpen early again, this time pulling starter Nick Pivetta after four innings. While Pivetta had already given up three runs, Kapler went on to use eight pitchers out of the bullpen in a game that went 11 innings.
There was also a strange play in the bottom of the third inning that drew attention to Kapler. Atlanta OF Ender Inciarte hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored infielder Ryan Flaherty from third. The play itself was pretty straightforward, but an odd collision occurred between Pivetta and Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies. Albies, as the on-deck hitter, was moving to direct the runner at the plate when he collided with Pivetta, who was moving behind the plate to back up the incoming throw. Fortunately, neither player appeared hurt on the play.
While the collision was understandably a bit odd, the play itself was straightforward. Since no other runners were on base, the collision had no impact on the actual play. Whether it was to receive clarification or to argue the play, Kapler engaged in a lengthy discussion with the umpires following the play. Eventually satisfied with the conversation, Kapler headed back to the dugout with play set to resume. It was at this point that things became weird.
Pivetta stepped off the rubber and threw to third base in an appeal that Flaherty had left the bag early on the play. The umpires ruled he did not, and Kapler came out of the dugout once again. This time, Kapler engaged in a brief discussion with the third base umpire and indicated he wished to challenge the call on the field. The call was upheld after review. (Faulty review equipment was later blamed for the lengthy discussion and delay.)
Unfortunately for the Phillies, a second win in the series was not meant to be. Philadelphia surrendered 15 runs to the Braves, used four more pitchers out of the bullpen, and were forced to utilize Pedro Florimon on the pitching mound. It was a terrible ending to the first series of the season, and Kapler somehow found a way to draw attention yet again in the blowout.
Kapler made the move to pull starter Vince Velasquez in the third inning. The problem is that Kapler removed Velasquez without a reliever warming up in the bullpen. Another delay ensued, and Atlanta’s manager Brian Snitker was even ejected from the game after arguing that play should have been resumed despite the mix-up.
Umpire Jerry Layne said after the game that he allowed the warmup pitches as he was concerned about the pitcher’s health if forced to enter a game cold. As a result of the mix-up, MLB is expected to issue a formal warning to Philadelphia.
There may be a time when Phillies fans can look back on these early career miscues by Kapler and joke about them. However, things are no laughing matter at this point. Philadelphia just spent $135 million on Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta in free agency, and management believes this team can compete for a trip to the post-season. While it is just one series, fans would hard-pressed to find any positive takeaways. Kapler currently looks overwhelmed as a manager, and the pitching just gave up 27 runs to a team projected to be towards the bottom of the standings this season. Kapler must learn and improve while on the job, and soon if Philadelphia hopes to compete this season.
Embed from Getty Images