An accumulation of thoughts on Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, plus, tonight's pregame post.
For those waiting with baited breath for an updated post, my apologies. Long-time readers may have picked up on my mid-week trend of late afternoon posting. Wednesdays are busy production days. Typically, blogging is done in my home office, or in front of the television, or between the cracks of the workday. Other times, I’m watching the games and jotting down notes, or rapidly deleting comments from bored teenagers posting as exotic dancers.
So Wednesdays are days of quiet reflection, coming at a good time after yesterday’s loss. I had no intention of turning an egg into egg salad. Instead, I read a few e-mails and shot off a few of my own, a veritable who’s who of blame.
Tom Goodman thinks Brett Myers came up small. In the blogger/player world, Goodman and Myers are the Phillies odd couple. Long-time reader George S. believes the manager (pictured right) isn't ready for prime time. Erik Grissom has believed all along the bullpen will become the Phillies downfall.
FYI, I’m jumping on the Manuel pile. I’m no longer in his corner with the way he’s handled the bullpen, and according Howard Eskin of 610-WIP, neither is the front office.
His defenders say "They are short-handed." But with an expanded roster, and all these left-handers, it’s hard to understand how that’s possible. Here's my theory. When Arthur Rhodes finally blew out, Manuel compensated by distributing the load to his best pitchers, instead of working in the extra hands like left-hander Fabio Castro. This screwed them in two ways. Their best pitchers like Geoff Geary are being pushed to the limit every night, while Castro, who should have been used in many more of these 4-5 run games earlier in the season, isn't in any kind of groove. Considering Tom Gordon is this delicate egg who can only be used in the ninth inning of a save situation, they basically have four tattered all-purpose bullpen arms: Geary, Aaron Fultz, Rick White and Ryan Madson. Matt Smith, who’s been coming in during tough spots, has nearly identical major-league experience as Castro, Clay Condrey, Brian Sanches and Eude Brito.
Strict bullpen roles always seem to work better. Some people don’t like them, but I do. In the past, I gave Manuel full credit for this. He deserves only partial credit. Manuel relies entirely on a player's history to make his unwavering assignments. For instance, he used Rhodes as a setup man until his arm fell off, even though he was clearly unable to throw strikes. Yet Geary, who's earned every right to become a setup man, can't stick because he’s never done it before. If the Phillies fall short, it’s worth taking a hard look at how Rhodes was allowed to pitch those critical late-season games.
Manuel can only play the hand he’s dealt, but he can certainly make a better play. You've got to have hitters behind Ryan Howard who can make contact. This is pretty important. Teams are willing to spot the Phillies a walk, often pushing a runner into scoring position to do it. He needs to be protected by hitters who can put the ball in play. This isn't Pat Burrell's game, or David Dellucci's game, especially now that both are struggling.
For over a month, the opposition's approach to the Phillies has changed dramatically, yet the lineup has stayed constant. Because of this, Howard's power has been neutralized. Now, Chase Utley is hitting again. Jimmy Rollins has been hitting for two months. These are two very good options to protect Howard, but nothing has been done about it. The problem here isn't Burrell. It's Manuel failing to adjust around Howard.
There’s plenty to like about Charlie Manuel, and I've stuck my neck out on his behalf much more than anyone I've read. But there’s plenty to dislike, too. Unfortunately, the weaknesses are surfacing just as the Phillies took control of their own destiny. I'm afraid we're seeing the manager Philadelphia’s veteran writers and radio hosts have warned us about.
Tonight’s game - short and sweet
The Phillies send Cole Hamels (9-8, 4.06 ERA) to the hill against Pedro Astacio (5-5, 6.12 ERA). Hamels is 6-3 with a 2.42 ERA dating back to Aug. 3. Astacio is 0-1 with an 11.74 ERA in two starts against the Phils this season.