It wasn’t just the coin flip of a short series or a banged-up offense that ended the Phillies’ season. Charlie Manuel’s long leash to struggling vets and unbending conviction to left-right match-ups loomed large.
The Phillies’ approach at the plate isn’t the only area in need of an overhaul. It’s time for Manuel to change, too. The bottom of the eighth in a do-or-die Game 5 of the NLDS illustrated his weakness. Placido Polanco, a feeble hitter since May, stayed in the game over a pinch hitter and was quickly dusted aside. Two batters later, Ross Gload, who hadn’t homered in over a year, hit for Roy Halladay instead of John Mayberry Jr., owner of one of baseball’s best second-half slugging percentages and the best bet to put the Phillies back in the game with one swing, even against the righty Chris Carpenter.
Manuel had the opportunity to use Mayberry against left-hander Arthur Rhodes in Game 4, opting instead for Raul Ibanez. He also took a beating over his in-game tactical decision to give Ryan Howard the green light on a 3-0 count with only nine outs remaining in Game 5.
All winter long, we've read about the preciousness of outs and the need for the aging offense to adjust. Aside from a few moves to add versatility to the bench, the front office decided to leave the bats alone despite two seasons in which it appeared they had run out of bullets in October.
Like it or not, it’s the hand Manuel has been dealt. Now he must put his players in the right position to win. Ibanez, one of his greatest devotions, is gone, but Polanco and a host of veterans remain. He can no longer lead blindly based on past success.