What a game last night, huh? What was your favorite part? I’m not sure about mine. There were just so many from which to choose. Was it the rain delay that lasted 101 minutes, thus prolonging the misery of watching the Phillies give away yet another winnable game in excruciating fashion? Was it watching Gabe Kapler curiously elect to bring starting pitcher Vince Velasquez back out after that delay, only to see the move work, and then go on to inexplicably yank him after two perfect innings? Perhaps you enjoyed the Phillies’ offense again do absolutely nothing for five innings before finally scoring four runs in the sixth, only for Victor Arano to implode in the bottom half of the frame and give the Nationals, a team whose season appeared on its last breath, some temporary life:
— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) August 22, 2018
Maybe you liked how Kapler elected to, for whatever reason, stick with Arano after that home run. Good decision:
— Los Nacionales (@losnacionales) August 22, 2018
Maybe you enjoyed watching a manager who has frequently shunned more obvious and logical chances to sacrifice bunt choose to have Cesar Hernandez do so in the seventh inning with the Phillies down two runs. According to FanGraphs, the bunt decreased the Phillies’ win probability by 1.9%. Did you enjoy watching that ill-advised and nonsensical decision backfire as the Phillies went on to strand two runners in the seventh and then leave the bases loaded in the eighth? Or, if you were a real asshole and found yourself still watching just before midnight, maybe you enjoyed the Nationals tagging Yacksel Rios for three runs in an eighth inning that put the exclamation point on a steaming turd of a performance by the Phillies’ bullpen.
For the first time this season, the Phillies look lifeless, lost, and overwhelmed by their struggles. That should be expected of a mostly young and inexperienced group of players that is simply not used to the mounting pressure of a division race that many didn’t expect them to be a part of. Maybe the same could be said of Kapler. He’s done a better job than he’s received credit for this season, but his lineups and in-game decisions have been increasingly worthy of criticism in recent weeks. Still, there appear to be concerns far greater than inexperience.
They, whoever they is, say things are often not as good as they seem, nor are they as bad as they seem. The Phillies better hope that axiom holds true because they look cooked right now. For four months this season, this was a team that was able to maximize the returns of its excellent starting pitching and timely hitting into a surprise ascension to the top of the National League East. They found ways to win. Now? Whether it has been poor defense, erratic starting pitching, a mostly quiet offense, or a bullpen meltdown, they are finding different ways to lose games. How do they stop it? Maybe they can’t. After all, they have a +2 run-differential through 125 games, which puts their expected record just a shade above.500 at 63-62. Maybe this is just simply what they are, and no lineup shuffle, or tactical maneuver can change it. We will soon find out.