Prior to last Thursday’s season opener, I wrote about the need for this Phillies team to get off to a fast start:
“The danger of Philadelphia sports is that when there is genuine hope, there is also less patience. The word “playoffs” has been increasingly paired with “Phillies” over the past month, and with that increases the potential for disappointment. While there are plenty of measured fans that think in more reasonable terms, we are where we are, and there are also plenty of fans that are approaching the Kapler era with skepticism. You may recall a certain football coach that came with a new-age approach that failed miserably. Fair or not, don’t think for one second that many fans forgot the feel of those burns and doubt Kapler because of it. A fast start quells some of that doubt.”
Well, shit. There was no fast start. There was no quelling. Instead, the 1-4 Phillies limp into Citizens Bank Park this afternoon for their home opener after a deflating first week. The considerable optimism that many had for this team only seven days ago has been completely wiped away, and with that Gabe Kapler learned first-hand about the unpleasant byproduct of what disappointment, bewilderment and skepticism looks like around here. Which brings us to today.
What is typically one of the best days on the calendar for any baseball fan will be an interesting one this year for Phillies fans in attendance as they decide how they want to welcome home a manager whose job preparedness has already come into question and a group of players who have collectively been ice cold to start the season. My guess? The team will get the, “Come on, boys. Let’s bounce back!” treatment, whereas they are going to boo the everlasting shit out of Kapler. At best, maybe it’s one of those blankets of boos, with a sympathetic smattering of pity cheers mixed, in that creates a perfectly awkward Philadelphia sports moment.
For a second yesterday, I actually thought it might go the other way for Kapler after what I initially thought were two “conventional losses” at Citi Field. Yesterday’s loss appeared ordinary until further inspection of Amed Rosario’s triple over the head of Nick Williams to knock in the eventual game-winning runs:
According to Statcast, Nick Williams was playing 245 feet from home plate on the Rosario triple. Average right fielder's starting position at Citi Field last year was 297 feet.
— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) April 4, 2018
Making matters worse, Rosario wasn’t behind in the count, looking to just simply put the ball in play. This occurred on the first pitch:
Spoke to one rival evaluator about the Phillies' defensive positioning in RF, and he said that Williams had been stationed very shallow repeatedly, for other hitters, and the talk among some scouts before Rosario's at-bat was whether he'd get burned.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 5, 2018
This is what Kapler had to say after the game:
“We have to be patient and trust that we’re trying to look at a very large sample size to evaluate if our strategies are working effectively. I can’t express enough confidence that our strategies will pay dividends, but I understand in the short term they haven’t and that can be disappointing. I get it.”
Personally, I think it’s stupid to position an outfielder that shallow, particularly with two outs, so early in the count, but that’s not really the point. Many of Kapler’s decisions have been questionable, but he has also run into some bad luck. And he’s right about sample size. If we pause for a moment and take the long view, five games accounts for roughly 3.1% of the regular season schedule. Barring catastrophic injury, a season cannot be lost in that sample of games.
The Phillies, if they play as they are supposed to play, can easily overcome this miserable start and rekindle some of that hope from their fans. That starts this afternoon when they host the Miami Marlins, a team they are – at least theoretically – supposed to beat up on.
As for how to play today, I would let Kapler have it early on and then give him a show of support. It’s been bad, really bad, but it is still early. There is no need to turn today’s pregame introduction into one of those cliché Philly sports references that national outlets use as ammo to further build a false narrative against this city’s fans.