Let us rewind to April 5, the day of the Phillies’ home opener. The team impotently limped back to Philadelphia to open its home slate after a miserable 1-4 start to the season. By that time, Gabe Kapler:
- Agitated his centerfielder by leaving him out of the Opening Day lineup.
- Agitated his best starting pitcher by prematurely removing him on Opening Day. It was a disaster of a game that the Phillies went on to lose in mystifying, yet predictable, fashion.
- Fried his bullpen after utilizing his relievers at a historic rate, forcing him to use utility man Pedro Florimon as a mop-up reliever in only the third game of the season.
- Failed to properly execute a routine pitching change because he didn’t allow ample time for his reliever to warm up, which, in turn, led to Major League Baseball issuing an embarrassing warning to the Phillies.
- Watched as a report emerged just prior to that day’s game that an anonymous Phillies player believed the team would be fine if Kapler would “get out of the way.”
For those reasons, the soundtrack of Kapler’s first weekend in Philadelphia featured a merciless stream of boos from agitated fans assembled at Citizens Bank Park that began with the team introductions:
Gabe Kapler heard some boos being introduced for #HomeOpener
I asked him how he can win back some #Phillies fans
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) April 5, 2018
Those boos carried over into the game, even when his moves were sound in judgment:
The fans in Philly were NOT happy when Gabe Kapler came to take out Nick Pivetta after 97 pitches.
There's two down in the sixth after 5.2 innings of scoreless baseball. pic.twitter.com/yAsYHaJe2w
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 5, 2018
And they didn’t subside over the duration of the weekend:
Gabe Kapler hears boos on every single pitching change.
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) April 8, 2018
Fast-forward to today. The Phillies have won eight of their last nine games, including six-straight after sweeps of the Reds and Rays, to move into second-place in the NL East. With a 9-5 record, they are off to their best start since the 2011 season, and with a win on Monday night, can officially rip off their longest winning streak in almost six years.
How do you like Gabe Kapler now?
Like I asked a week ago, how can you boo this swag?
How can you boo this swag? pic.twitter.com/PNlOBE4Z1N
— BWanksCB (@BWCrossingBroad) April 8, 2018
In all seriousness, it’s still hard to know what to make of Kapler after his first five series as this team’s manager. Is he the matchup and data obsessed-tactician that revealed a startlingly absent feel of the game, feel of his clubhouse, and feel of common sense? Or, is he simply a guy who was too eager to prove his way was the right way, made some poor decisions, didn’t get much help from his players, and just ran into some plain old bad luck?
If you thought the early April condemnation of Kapler was an unfair rush to judgment, then to say this team is headed in the right direction after beating up on two shitty teams that will end the day with a combined 5-25 record is also probably a short-sighted rush to judgment. The Phillies’ rebound since April 5 has been both impressive and encouraging, but those who were/are still skeptical over the quirky but beautiful manager–his machismo is truly arresting–need not yet write their apology letters. It took me until after the Carolina game back in Week 5 for me to issue a heart-felt and sincere apology to Doug Pederson:
Personally, I was pretty hard on him. But now? I don’t even know how to adequately explain the way I feel. Let me put it to you this way. If he was standing directly across from me and exhaled into my face, I would breathe it in and let it be in me. Is that weird? Yeah, I guess it is, but whatever.
I’m just not at that level yet with Kapler, but if the Phillies reach 10 games over .500, then it’s going to get weird, and that proposition doesn’t seem like such a long shot.
The Phillies entered this season with promise and hype, and it’s my position that this recent surge could do wonders for the manager and his young team. Their collective ability to overcome some early missteps, only to rebound with such authority, has to instill confidence in this group that the hype is real. After a three-game set against the Braves in which the Phillies will return to scene of Kapler’s embarrassing opening series crimes, they return home for a ten-game homestand. They have, at the very least, put themselves in position to have a quality opening month to a season in which many fans hope and believe they can return to the postseason for the first time in seven years.
In truth, what do we know about Kapler at this point? Not much. I’m still not in love with his handling of the bullpen, or his constant lineup shuffling, but I’m willing to bet he isn’t the overmatched ass clown he appeared to be all of ten days ago. And I’m willing to bet that with a decent series in Atlanta, he may return home to hear a different tune from the crowd.