The Phillies muddled through another mistake-riddled loss last night and fell below .500 again. The game featured extremely poor coaching, a lack of basics and players quitting on the game's final play. Who's responsible?
It’s becoming less and less certain what a manager actually does in baseball. We’ve read a number of pieces this season on what a manager doesn’t do and shouldn’t be asked to do, many of them written the day after Eskingate, little sermons on how to ask the "right" questions instead of the "tough" ones.
As far as one can tell nowadays, all that’s required from a manager is to set the lineup card and make pitching changes, not that this manager is doing either of those particularly well. But since Charlie Manuel doesn’t build the bullpen, manage the farm system or take the field with a bat and glove, his hands are clear, right?
Only if you still have a full head of hair after watching three seasons of Charlie Manuel. As it turns out, underneath Howard Eskin’s naked agenda, he asked the right question, to the right person. At what point does Manuel push his players to perform better? To play smarter? To get it right? At what point, after three seasons, does the shepherd take charge of the flock?
More than a month letter, we’re scratching our heads over the same basic mistakes that were made last season. The fundamentals were so poor in 2006, an entire stable of coaches got the axe to give Manuel additional help. And guess what: it’s even worse this season.
There’s no reason to expect better. The man in the best position to reinforce the basics and make players accountable is still here. This was two consecutive nights of brutal, head-scratching baseball. Habitual stupidity. A veteran third base coach, wasting a potential go-ahead run in the 8th inning with no outs. Again! A veteran catcher making a poor play at the plate. Again! Burning the bench by the 8th inning. Again! Runners left in scoring position by the dozen because of poor at bats. Again! It’s unrelenting, and maddening.
Catching 101: I tried to minimize the backup catcher situation here and make it a minor focus. Now the problems with Rod Barajas are undeniable. You’d assume he could at least field the position to justify the bad bat, but like everything else with the Phils, you can’t assume anything.
With Ryan Howard likely to return from the DL today, the Phillies are prepared to send away a player who actually gets it: Overly-capable catcher Chris Coste. In two seasons, he’s hitting about .330 and never wastes an opportunity at the plate. Has he played over his head? Sure he has, but that’s what winning players - winning teams - are supposed to do.
Like everything else, nobody understands that. After all, mediocrity is still a marked improvement for a franchise 21 losses away from 10,000.