Some Thoughts on a Nightmare of an Opening Day for Gabe Kapler's Phillies
What Went Down: The Phillies jumped out to a quick start as they built an early 5-0 lead in the early going. Rhys Hoskins got the party started by knocking in a run with his first of two doubles, Cesar Hernandez homered to right center, Maikel Franco walked (WALKED!) with the bases loaded, and Andrew Knapp hit a two-run single. Aaron Nola was excellent in his first start of the season, coasting effortlessly through 5.1 innings of work before being removed by Gabe Kapler after 68 pitches (more on that in a bit). Lackluster efforts by Hoby Milner, Adam Morgan, and Edubray Ramos combined to piss a seemingly commanding lead away before Nick Markakis walked it off against Hector Neris with a three-run blast. I am no longer firm.
I want to call it an absolute nightmare of a debut for Kapler in a game that was filled with several perplexing decisions, each of which yielded brutal results. It was what I would call a less than ideal debut. I want to stay measured just in case anybody is reading this rambling but popular sports blog.
What I Liked: After making huge strides in 2017, it appears Aaron Nola is primed for an All-Star season, you know, if the manager lets him. It was the type of performance you would expect of a legitimate ace on Opening Day. His curveball was outrageous in the third inning, using it to strike out the side:
Today is Nola day and Aaron Nola's curveball struck out the side in third. pic.twitter.com/TCKnWYn5d1
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) March 29, 2018
Meanwhile, Rhys Hoskins ripped a pair of doubles which is a good sign for the Phillies slugger as he looks to build on an encouraging 2017. Other than that, well, that’s about it.
Who or What Pissed Me Off: Gape Kapler. Jesus Christ, man. Here’s the thing. Kapler is going to do things in an unorthodox way. He will rely on matchups, numbers, and data to make the bulk of his decisions. It backfired in epic fashion today and the results were an unmitigated shit show from the bottom of the sixth onward. I don’t know if this works out long-term for Kapler. Maybe it does. Maybe his worst game is his first game, but this was embarrassing. And here’s the thing, being progressive simply for the sake of being progressive is not good. I know baseball has trended in a direction where numbers trump conventional wisdom, but guess what—sometimes conventional wisdom is right.
If you want to argue that Nola only went four innings in his final spring training start and that it isn’t preposterous that he was removed after 68 effortless pitches over five-plus low stress innings, that’s fine. You are wrong, but that’s fine. That still leaves two questions. 1) Why did he let him hit in the top of the inning, only to give him a quick hook in the bottom half? 2) This is the one that nobody is really asking, but they should be. If the pitch count was a concern, then why the fuck was he not stretched out to go beyond 68 pitches? We’re not talking about pushing a guy into the triple digits here. Crazytown.
Gabe Kapler. Again. You like playing the numbers, huh? Do ya’, guy? Cool. Then why the hell was Hector Neris facing Nick Markakis in the bottom of the 9th? Markakis was 7 FOR 14 entering that at-bat against Neris. And guess what? It was a situation where the numbers didn’t lie and the expected result transpired:
— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) March 29, 2018
And you know what else? If you are going to bench your center fielder because the data at your disposal says you should, that’s fine. But players notice a lack of consistency. If Kapler wants to cite Herrera’s past performance against Teheran to justify benching him on Opening Day, he can do that. But I’ll bet my ass Herrera finds out that Markakis had those numbers against Neris. That lack of consistency won’t go unnoticed in the clubhouse, and it won’t take long for those players to openly question the manager’s decisions. I promise you that.
Missing bats. The Phillies made seven of their final nine outs by striking out. That’s unacceptable. The sequence in the top of the 8th was particularly frustrating. Hoskins led off the inning with his second double, which was wasted when Aaron Alterr, J.P. Crawford, and Knapp struck out. Good teams add on late in games. They sac up, put the ball in play, and push runs across. Bad teams flail away aimlessly and leave runs out on the field. The Phillies hitters should be to the fucking moon that Kapler was so inexplicably bad, because that sequence and lack of situational hitting will go overlooked, but it shouldn’t.
Pace of play. If that’s a preview of what’s to come, then Citizens Bank Park is going to sell A TON of beer this summer because this pace is what I would call less than crisp. And if this is how each game is going to be handled, there is not enough beer in the world to medicate oneself through a game like that. On our podcast the other night, Anthony SanFilippo and I wondered why Kapler was carrying nine relievers. Guess what? Nine may not be enough if this is the plan.
Now What? It’s only one game out of 162. Nerves, lack of feel and bad luck might have made for one bad day when the spotlight was at its brightest. To be fair, Kapler’s decisions may work more often than they don’t, but this wasn’t a good start. The Phillies are back at it tomorrow night in Atlanta at 7:35. It will be Nick Pivetta vs. Mike Foltynewicz.