I don’t have a problem with the way Rob Thomson manages the Phillies.

There. I said it. Feel free to criticize me as much as you do him.

But, before you do, let me explain my position on this.

It’s possible to disagree with a manager’s decisions in a game or over a series of games, and still accept the fact that he’s a good manager for that specific team.

It’s truly the old adage – you blame the manager for his decisions when the team loses, but he rarely, if ever, gets credit for when the team wins. It can’t be both ways, and yet, the beauty of the Philadelphia sports fan is that here – it can be.

Just like here it works to have Kyle Schwarber lead off when this version of Schwarber wouldn’t see the light of day atop an order anywhere else:

Just like here it makes sense to pitch Christopher Sanchez first after the All-Star break. Just like here it makes sense to let struggling superstars stay in their spots in the lineup so they can hit their way out.

Just like playing well enough to be a half game out of the first Wild Card spot despite three of your highest paid hitters underperforming all season.

And then there’s the starting pitchers, who have been inconsistent, and the bullpen that’s had quite a bit of shuffling.

Oh, and don’t forget the below-average defense, the countless base-running gaffes, and the frustratingly odd approach at the plate that is resulting in more strikeouts, fewer walks, and way fewer runs.

Hearing all this, one would have to assume that this team we watch on almost a daily basis is pretty damn bad. And yet, they remain very much in the thick of the playoff race and have a more favorable schedule than most of the playoff teams in the month of August.

It’s such a strange juxtaposition. None of this should be happening this way, and yet it is. This team should be better, yes. But they could also be a lot worse given the descriptors above.

And yet, they aren’t. That’s because they find ways to win games even when they probably shouldn’t. They also find ways to avoid long losing skids and often ways to counter them to get back on track quickly.

All of this has to be borne from the clubhouse culture, and that comes from the leadership group and a manager who lets the clubhouse simply let its hair down:

Thomson has the player’s backs and they have his, and as such, that mutual respect and belief in one another carries this team – even when the data says they shouldn’t.

That’s why he’s actually a heck of a manager. It’s not quantifiable. A lot of what he does in his role leaves you to roll your eyes in the moment. Monday’s 3-2 loss to Baltimore was a microcosm of what I’m talking about. There were head-scratching decisions being made by Thomson that, in my mind, were flat out wrong.

  • Giving three starters off days at the same time and weakening the lineup against the team with the best record in the American League:

  • Not challenging a ball that was clearly dropped in centerfield. (The excuse was the video room didn’t get the definitive replay in time so Thomson didn’t want to risk it.)
  • Not pinch running for Schwarber after he reached base int he bottom of the eighth. He would eventually score the tying run, but in the top of the ninth, despite an incredibly valiant effort, Schwarber couldn’t get to a double down the line. Something a player with a bit more athleticism would have had much less trouble executing. (The excuse on this one was Thomson thought about it, but that he didn’t want to burn Brandon Marsh as a pinch runner, and not have a lefty bullet in the chamber if the Orioles decided to bring in a righty in the ninth inning).
  • Botching the ninth inning order. Not pinch hitting for Josh Harrison first and foremost. Then when he had two outs and the bases empty choosing a slower base runner, like Alec Bohm, to bat first and then J.T. Realmuto, the better baserunner, to bat second. Both runners reached base, so it looked like it worked, but imagine pinch hitting Realmuto first and once he’s on base using his ability to steal second that Bohm doesn’t. If he does that a single ties it. Instead rookie Johan Rojas needed a clutch single that didn’t happen.

All those things were done differently than I would have done them, but it doesn’t mean the Phillies would have won the game. It just means that they put themselves behind the eight ball at times and this time they weren’t able to come out of it.

And yet…they’re still right there. They’re still in the thick of the race. An argument can be made that they’re the second-best team in the National League behind the Braves.

That’s got to count for something. Whatever Thomson is doing, it’s working. And before you go and say, “The Phillies win in spite of him,” take note at how many Phillies players are underperforming their expected contributions. Then ask yourself, if that’s the case, then why are they still winning?

Maybe, just maybe, Thomson is a guy who can manage around their shortcomings. Even if it’s unconventional and not something most fans approve of or would do if they were in his shoes.

The Phillies are a big money franchise. Look at some other big money franchises in baseball and see how they are doing. The Mets stink. The Yankees offense is terrible even when they have Aaron Judge in the lineup. The Padres are a mess, their players are not in sync, and there are rumors that they might trade away players at the deadline rather than add to their mix.

And then there’s the Phillies, who, for as frustrating as they are at times, are right there, and have a roster built to win in the postseason. That’s all because of culture. That’s because of the feeling in the locker room that they are never out of a game. That they can beat anyone. At any time.

And that belief starts with Thomson.

You don’t always have to agree with his managerial decisions. I certainly don’t. There’s always going to be scrutiny in that vein. But just because you question those decisions doesn’t mean he isn’t a good manager for this specific group of players. He may not work as a manager elsewhere, but he works here. And his faith in his players is likely why, when all is said and done, Thomson and the Phillies will be back in the playoffs come October.

(Note: I’m in. I’d have a front row seat).