After an eventful offseason and productive spring training, the Phillies opened the season on the road against the division rival Braves. It was a less than ideal start for the Phils- particularly for rookie manager Gabe Kapler. Let’s recap the action from Atlanta:
The Phillies were huge players in free agency for relievers this past offseason, and for good measure. Last season the Phils ranked 17th in bullpen ERA (4.18), and needed major improvements in that department to compliment their young starting rotation. Veteran relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek were brought in to lead the new-look bullpen, but neither were available to pitch in the opening series.
Hunter was placed on the 10-day disabled list a few days before the season and Neshek was placed under the same designation yesterday after being unable to pitch in Atlanta. So, the Phillies were without their top two relievers to begin the season- and it showed.
The Phillies bullpen got absolutely destroyed by the Braves. They allowed 16 runs in 15 2⁄3 innings- blowing numerous leads along the way. It was an embarrassing effort by the pen as they allowed run after run, but it was aided by an equally embarrassing managerial job by Gabe Kapler.
Gabe Kapler got off to one of the more bizarre and disappointing starts to a managerial career. Kap began his career with a few questionable decisions, leaving Odubel Herrera and rookie sensation Scott Kingery out of the Opening Day lineup:
Interesting #OpeningDay lineup and defensive alignment for the Phillies in Gabe Kapler's big league managerial debut:
• No Odubel — 5-for-27 (.185) career vs. Teheran
• No Alfaro or Kingery pic.twitter.com/YauVyVQcld
— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) March 29, 2018
To be fair, as the graphic notes, Herrera severely struggles against Teheran, so it’s understandable to avoid that matchup. What confuses me is that by that same logic, Kapler would have certainly wanted to avoid deploying Aaron Altherr and Cesar Hernandez- who bat .125 and .185 vs Teheran- against the Braves starter as well.
Kap, however, went with his gut and set his Opening Day lineup. The decision didn’t turn out half bad, either, as the Phillies quickly jumped out to a 5-0 lead. The Phillies seemed to be in cruise control before a pair of poor decisions from Kapler.
The rookie skipper decided to pull ace starting pitcher Aaron Nola in the sixth inning, despite Nola having a shutout intact and a reasonable pitch count of 68. The bullpen instantly proved the move unwise, as they went on to allow eight runs. Not only did Kap’s decision open the door for the Braves to pile on runs, but another head-scratching decision made it difficult for the Phils to respond offensively.
Sophomore slugger Rhys Hoskins was replaced by Herrera in the outfield, despite having two doubles in three at-bats in the contest. The substitution left the Phillies without their top offensive threat as they tried to regain their once swollen lead.
Ultimately the Phillies lost the opener 8-5, due in large part to poor decision making by Kap. These weren’t his only major mistakes, as he called for Hoby Milner to supplant Vince Velasquez in just the third inning. The issue isn’t that Kap called for the
pen so early, as the game quickly got out of hand, but that he failed to call the pen and have Milner- or any reliever- stretch and warm up. Upon realizing this, Kap had to stall to try and buy his relievers time. Kap was ripped by an umpire and later warned by the MLB for the fiasco, and capped off an embarrassing start with another shameful act.
With Kap seeming as though he’s unaware of how the sport works, it’s easy to see why the Phils appeared so overwhelmed and unprepared. Philly was outscored by fifteen in the series, including a 15-2 beatdown in the finale, and seemed helpless as it tried to find a productive pitcher aside from Nola. Kapler certainly didn’t do the pen any favors, but they’ll need to be much improved moving forward.
A Star is Born:
Although it was a series to forget for the Phillies, there’s one Phillie who will remember it for the rest of his life. Top prospect Scott Kingery made his MLB debut in game two of the series, and responded with two singles in five at-bats:
Scott Kingery shows off his 55-grade hit tool, lining a single right back up the middle for his first @MLB hit. Kingery is the @Phillies No. 2 prospect: https://t.co/Sh2Afwwf0a pic.twitter.com/0dWVvujWhh
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 31, 2018
This wasn’t the only multi-hit game of the series for Kingery, as he smashed two doubles in the following game. The rookie is off to a hot start and seems like he has the tools to stick around this league for a long time. If Kap is creative enough to move the talented infielder around and consistently get him at-bats, he could have a real shot at being the Rookie of the Year when it’s all said and done.
Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports