In classic act of Philadelphia sports fanaticism, we latched onto a couple small things with a kung fu grip this weekend and never let go.

The Phillies had an embarrassing weekend in Pittsburgh, dropping 2-of-3 to the lowly Pirates. On Saturday, Aaron Nola wasn’t good, the defense behind him was even worse, bad baserunning decisions hurt the team, and one of the “Big Five” guys in the lineup did the one thing he couldn’t do in the bottom of the ninth with runners on the corners and one out and his team trailing by one: bounce into a game-ending double play.

Then, on Sunday, two more defensive miscues, another baserunning gaffe, and shoddy relief from guys the Phillies are counting on in bigger spots.

Both led to losses that should undoubtedly have been wins.

Instead, everyone wants to talk about manager Rob Thomson, and pin these losses on him:

One for poor lineup construction and the other for mismanagement of pitchers.

On Saturday, Thomson finally did what the masses have been begging for – and that’s move Trea Turner down in the lineup. He would hit seventh. But, in his place, Thomson inserted Nick Castellanos, who has been even worse than Turner since July 4th.

On Sunday, Thomson sat Brandon Marsh, Bryson Stott, and J.T. Realmuto against a soft-tossing lefty in Rich Hill. If Garrett Stubbs can hit against Hill, well then, so can Stott and/or Marsh. Thomson also pulled Cristopher Sanchez after just five innings and having thrown just 73 pitches, despite the fact that Sanchez was tossing a no-hitter. Turns out Sanchez was pitching with a stomach bug, and the Phillies didn’t want to push him too long.

Regardless, if Sanchez was healthy enough to throw five innings, he could have at least started the sixth. He didn’t. The bullpen imploded and the Phillies find themselves a half-game out of a wild card spot on the eve of the trade deadline.

The masses want to put the manager on trial for pulling Sanchez, or for poor lineup construction, or for not benching struggling players.

And that’s fine. You want to be mad at Thomson for pulling Sanchez, go for it. I wouldn’t have pulled him either. But you also need to be mad at Seranthony Dominguez for being unable to get outs in relief and blowing the lead.

You want to be mad that it took so long to move Turner down in the lineup and equally mad that Castellanos was inserted into the No. 2 hole, that’s great. But how about calling Castellanos on the carpet for having a stretch of plate appearances worse than any 22-game stretch in 2022? Turner has gotten the abuse, but he doesn’t deserve the shield of his manager when it comes to assessing blame either.

You want to be mad that Stott’s not in the lineup, when he should be, then fine. But it’s not like Thomson is benching Stott with significant regularity, like some people want you to believe:

Fans look for the easy way out. They want heads on platters and don’t care to actually investigate whose heads are most deserving. They just go for the easiest targets, and many times, they are led to those conclusions by the rabble rousers of the media and broadcast communities.

But just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it’s right:

(ahhh… one fan who got it right.)

Put it this way. Regardless of the lineup, the Phillies would have won Saturday if:

  • Nola had any semblance of command after the second inning.
  • Castellanos would catch a somewhat routine fly ball (it was ruled a hit, despite his bad route and the ball still hitting off his glove).
  • Bryce Harper didn’t rush trying to field a ground ball that became his first error as a first baseman.
  • Marsh didn’t misplay a single into a triple (should have been a single and two-base error, but, it’s 2023).
  • Castellanos didn’t leave a small village on base.
  • Harper doesn’t become over-aggressive and try to stretch a single into a double with the play happening right in front of him.
  • Realmuto didn’t swing at a 3-0 fastball down the middle with one out and the tying run at third base and instead decided to swing at a 3-1 curveball, which he was out in front of, and tapped into a game-ending double play.

And the Phillies would have won Sunday if:

  • Dominguez actually could get out in relief.
  • Turner and Edmundo Sosa communicate better and don’t collide and drop a pop-up.
  • Johan Rojas, who is a defensive whiz in centerfield, doesn’t make an uncharacteristic error on a base hit to center, allowing a run to score.
  • Yunior Marte doesn’t give up a single and a double to start the eighth inning, allowing the Pirates to eventually tie the score.
  • Alec Bohm doesn’t break for third base and force Harper to run home as the Phillies hit in to the good ol’ 9-2-4-2 double play.

You see, the issues aren’t with the manager. It’s with the players. You can bitch about Thomson’s lineups until you’re blue in the face, but if Schwarber, Turner, Castellanos, and Realmuto aren’t hitting and Harper provides no power, what’s Thomson supposed to do? Bat them 5-9 in the lineup? Will that suddenly make them hit like they’re supposed to hit?

Or maybe he should bench them all. I’m sure fans would love to see more Josh Harrison, Jake Cave, Stubbs, Sosa, and Rojas. Combined, that quintet is slashing .234/.289/.351 with a .640 OPS in 504 plate appearances this year. Newsflash, Turner has done better than all five combined by himself – and we know how bad Turner’s been.

The point is, it’s silly to be complaining about the manager and the lineups at this point. The Phillies have five superstar caliber players who are playing like anything but. Harper has been good at getting hits and getting on base, but his overall production is way down for his standard.

Castellanos had a great April, May and June, but since July 4th he is slashing .122/.160/.189 for a .349 OPS with 35 strikeouts and just two walks in 94 plate appearances. That’s not even good enough to be categorized as a slump.

Schwarber is still on a 44-home run pace and can put together games like Friday where he was 2-2 for three walks, but then Saturday and Sunday, although he walked five more times, he was 0-for-5 otherwise, with all five outs being strikeouts.

We’ve been over the season-long malaise of Turner, and it’s time Realmuto is held accountable for his subpar season as well.

Meanwhile, while Nola’s final numbers from Saturday were skewed worse by bad defense behind him, he still yielded nine hits, eight of which were legit, and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning, also walking three batters, which was two more than his previous four starts combined. Oh, and he gave up another home run. That’s 24 this season.

The Phillies have struck out 969 times this season. Only the Twins, Mariners, Giants, A’s and Angels have struck out more. The Phillies have only walked 328 times this season. That ranks 24th out of 30 teams. They have been thrown out on the bases 35 times (not including pickoffs or times caught stealing). Only six teams are worse. According to Baseball Reference, the Phillies’ defensive runs saved is minus-16. Only four teams are worse – and they’re all non-playoff teams (Cardinals, Nationals, White Sox, and A’s).

The Phillies’ issues right now are not about the manager and the lineups he puts together or the way he manages his pitchers. I wrote about Thomson last week and why he’s the right manager for these Phillies. That opinion hasn’t changed, even if, in the past week, there were multiple decisions worth questioning in the moment or second-guessing after the fact. But find me a manager who you never question their in-game decision-making. Don’t try. You can’t.

This is all on the players. If the big five hitters don’t do what they’re supposed to do, if Nola doesn’t get his act together, especially when there are runners on base, and if certain bullpen arms like Dominguez, or even a Marte who is being relied on in more high-leverage situations now, can’t do what they are expected to do with any more consistency, then there’s nothing that Dave Dombrowski can do before Tuesday’s trade deadline or Thomson can do with lineups and managing pitcher usage, that will make things any better for the Phillies.

The players – and purely the players – have two months to get it right.