The opening series of 2006 couldn’t have ended worse for the Phillies, or their optimistic fans, falling 4-2 to the Cards and watching Jimmy Rollins’ hitting streak end at 38.
Opening week featured unpopular players doing unpopular things, and unpopular decision-makers making unpopular decisions.
Starting at third base, the more things change, the more they stay the same. When GM Pat Gillick signed infielder Abraham Nunez to a two year deal, that should have ended David Bell’s days against right-handed pitching. Even Bell knows it. He was a .199 trainwreck against right-handers last season. Against Jason Marquis, yesterday’s right-handed starter, he was 0-5 lifetime. Certainly, Bell would be second, or even third on the depth charts for this game, behind Nunez and Alex Gonzalez, the second third baseman signed by Gillick. Hint, hint.
Yesterday, Bell was inserted into the lineup anyway and went 0-4, leaving five men stranded. This is nothing new. Batting seventh last season, the funeral Bell often tolled with men on and two outs. And to throw salt on the wouds, he committed two errors.
Mike Lieberthal, the other half of the now-infamous black hole, did better at the plate, going 1-3 with an RBI double in his third-consecutive start.
Lieby, the only player who is even less popular than Bell, finished a less-than-textbook series behind the plate. He couldn’t hold baserunners. He was not on the same page as his pitchers. And in Wednesday’s loss, ended the game with a bases-loaded ground out.
If that wasn’t bad enough, starting pitching, considered by some the team’s big weakness, couldn't last longer than five innings. Cory Lidle (0-1, 5.40 ERA) was the best of the bunch, but let it slip away in a four-run fifth. Until then, he was in control and had only thrown 59 pitches, primed to last at least through the seventh.
The rainclouds that seem to follow manger Charlie Manuel wherever he goes have tracked him into 2006. Indeed, his tactical strategy was the team’s black cloud last season, and he’s already made several questionable choices in the early-going, giving the start to Bell yesterday, reuniting the black hole and pairing Jon Lieber with Lieberthal on opening day.
An opening sweep shouldn’t be taken lightly, but if there’s any lesson, it’s that momentum only goes as far as the next game. The Phillies spring training momentum dried up the moment Scott Rolen planted a grand slam deep into the seats.
Make no mistake: Clearwater is an imaginary place.