It happened again. No, not the Pirates beating the Phillies (although that happened, too). No, I’m talking about one of the top hitters in the Phillies lineup inexplicably dropping a bunt in a situation that certainly didn’t require it in the early innings. For that matter, I’m also talking about a series of managerial miscues that cost the Phillies today’s game.
Let’s set the stage: It’s the top of the 6th inning and the Phillies have a 2-1 lead. Juan Pierre has just reached on a bunt single and advanced to second on an errant Pedro Alvarez throw. This brings the heart of the Phillies lineup to the plate: Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, and Hunter Pence.
In 2010, Shane Victorino had 62 plate appearances with a runner on second and posted a .371 OBP. In 2011, Shane Victorino came to the plate 40 times in the same situation and posted a .436 OBP. Charlie, of course, decides that Victorino should intentionally make an out. He has effectively taken the bat out of the hands of one of his best players.
This brought Jimmy Rollins (and his career .273 OBP with a runner on 3rd and one out) to the plate, and he promptly struck out. Clint Hurdle wisely decided to intentionally walk Pence, who drove in both runs with a double and a solo homer earlier in the game. With runners on the corners, Jim Thome registered a backwards K and, as much as I love him, showed that he may have some trouble this year catching up with mid-90’s heat.
Instead of letting Victorino hit in a situation where he has shown the ability to get on base, Charlie Manuel chose to sacrifice Juan Pierre to third and take the bat out of Pence’s hands. The whole scenario makes even less sense when you consider that Juan Pierre almost certainly has the speed and base running instincts to score from second base on a base hit to the outfield. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only blunder of the game.
The next blunder goes to Ty Wigginton, with an assist to Charlie. I’m not sure what he was thinking with the lineup he trotted out there today, but watching this group of characters play defense is like watching a slapstick comedy with Manuel playing the role of Charlie Chaplin. You’ve got outfielders running into each other, guys dropping balls, guys who were too big to play 3rd base 40 pounds ago playing 3rd base, etc… Yes, it’s a bit of an exaggeration especially considering the guys who ran into each other were Pence and Victorino, but I can’t help but feel that the dollars that went to Ty Wigginton and/or Laynce Nix could have been better spent on a guy like Ryan Theriot.
On this seemingly innocuous play in the bottom of the 7th, Michael Stutes handily dismissed Clint Barmes on strikes, and then whiffed Pedro Alvarez on a breaking pitch in the dirt. Schneider raced in front of home plate to grab the ball, dropped it, then fired a strike, albeit a strike a bit wide of the first base bag, to Ty Wigginton, who promptly displayed zero lateral mobility while failing to make the catch. I commented that this would cost the Phils the game, but settled in once Michael McKenry flew out for the second (and what should have been the third) out. After a Casey McGehee double and an Alex Presley single each plated a run, the Pirates pulled within one run to make the score 4-3. Blunder #2: complete.
Now it’s time for blunder #3, which would occur just an inning later and would be repeated. With runners on first and second, two outs, and the Pirates down 4-3, Charlie decided to leave Antonio Bastardo in the game instead of going to his best reliever, Jonathan Papelbon. Predictably, Bastardo gave up a game-tying single to future Hall of Famer Matt Hague, then retired McKenry on strikes to close the inning. Why Papelbon wasn’t brought in here is mystifying. Why he wasn’t brought in the bottom of the 9th is downright infuriating.
I don’t care what the adages are about playing on the road or at home or whatever, one thing should matter above all else: You play to win all the time. If you are the visiting team in a tie game and it’s the bottom of the 9th, your singular goal at that point in time is to prevent a run from crossing the plate. You’re not saving your “closer” so he can get a save, you’re not saving your guys in case there are more innings.
Predictably, instead of going to his best reliever, Papelbon, in a situation where they absolutely could not allow a run, Manuel inserted David Herndon into the game. Look, I’m sure Herndon is a really nice guy, and he had a pretty good season last year for the Phillies, but who would you rather have pitching in a situation where you cannot afford to allow even one run? Papelbon, the guy you just gave a $50 million contract because he is one of the best relief pitchers alive? Or Herndon, the guy who was basically the last roster addition to a 12-man pitching staff? Blunder #3 put the Pirates in a phenomenal position.
Ah, but wait! There’s a bonus blunder! With two outs and Josh Harrison on third, Herndon was a single pitch away from getting out of a runner-on-2nd, no outs jam. Again, this would have been a great time to bring in Papelbon, but Charlie chose not to.
With Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates best player, coming to the plate, Charlie elected not to issue an intentional walk. Walking McCutchen would have brought Neil Walker to the plate. Walking Neil Walker would have loaded the bases, created a force at any base, and required the Pirates to pinch-hit for reliever Joel Hanrahan. The only position player left on Pittsburgh’s bench was backup catcher and former Phillie Rod Barajas. In his career with the bases loaded and two outs, Barajas has batted .250/.308/.389.
But we don’t really need numbers to figure this one out, do we? Who would you rather pitch to: Rod Barajas or Andrew McCutchen? It’s a pretty simple choice, but not simple enough for Charlie Manuel.
Look, it’s only the third game of the season, and I hate to start with negativity and nitpick every mistake, but this game alone featured four very substantial managerial errors that materially and negatively affected the outcome of the game for the Phillies. Those four decisions don’t even take into account the fact that Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton started the game at 3B and 1B, respectively. It’s clear that we have a problem with offense, and poor personnel and tactical decisions by the guy in charge do nothing to help the cause.