The Phillies Week in Review, everything you need to know about the week that was in the Philadelphia Phillies 2018 season.
Phillies 2018 – Week 1 (3/29-4/1)
The 2017 season served a purpose. The same way a painful medical procedure and a long arduous rehabilitation process serves a purpose. The underperforming Philadelphia Phillies would eventually cost manager Pete Mackanin his job. But, it would also provide opportunities for young talent to supplant veterans who weren’t doing enough to make themselves part of the organization’s long term plans. If you weren’t thrilled with last year’s opening day roster or coaching staff, you’ll be happy to learn that new manager Gabe Kapler brings with him some new faces in the coaching ranks and no less than 13 players who were not on this roster a year ago.
Kapler also brings with him a progressive, analytical approach to managing that is the result of his time spent in dugouts next to the likes of Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. His chiseled physique is legendary, as is his willingness to proclaim his aversion to steroids and other chemical shortcuts in his development and maintenance of that physique. That evangelical devotion to a natural regimen and his strategic approach were far enough outside the box to have more than a few of the Philly faithful hearing echoes of Chip Kelly. Where he differs from Kelly is his commitment to getting to know his players and build a family atmosphere in the clubhouse.
The Phillies advertising campaign for 2018 boasts of a team that will be BOLD. Thanks to myriad companies using ‘BOLD’ to describe everything from snack chips and deodorant to pick-up trucks and condiments that word seems to have lost all meaning. In fact, if memory serves, the Flyers promised to be BOLD a few NHL seasons ago and found themselves boldly heading to the golf course that April. So, with a heavy sigh, we here at The Cave grudgingly declare … Let the Boldness Begin
The players union fought for a few more off days to be sprinkled into the schedule during the last collective bargaining session. The result is four more breathers and an awkward half week to kick off the schedule in late March. So, on a breezy Thursday afternoon in northwest Georgia, the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves began the 2018 season.
Kapler seemed bent on stamping his ideology on this team immediately when he posted a lineup that looked more like a June ‘day game after a night game’ than a season opener. Projected starters Odubel Herrera and Jorge Alfaro were sitting, as well as highly touted and freshly inked rookie Scott Kingery. On the bright side, Aaron Nola was making the start, a reward for his solid second half last season. The 24-year-old picked up where he left off, keeping the Atlanta hitters off balance with a wicked curveball. No Brave reached second base until a leadoff double in the 6th inning. By then, the Phils had built a 5-0 lead. Nola had handled the Braves best hitter, Freddy Freeman, thus far with an innocuous pitch around in the 1st and a soft ground ball in the 4th. But, Freeman’s history of hammering the Phillies and Nola (6-16, HR, 4 RBI) prompted Kapler to make a decision that may well define his tenure as the captain of this ship for fans throughout the Delaware Valley. Instead of intentionally walking Freeman and going after Nick Markakis, Kapler pulled Nola after only 68 pitches. His replacement, Hoby Milner, who was very effective in his time with the big club last year, wasted no time in serving up a two-run dinger to Freeman. He and Luis Garcia would eventually get through the 6th. But, the scuffling Braves now had life and a reason to believe they were still in the game.
Adam Morgan would finish the 7th for Garcia. Morgan came out for the 8th and was touched for a solo shot by Ozzie Albies. Edubray Ramos replaced him, ineffectively, and two more runs were scored, tying the game at 5-5. Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino struck out the side in order in the top of the 9th and Kapler, who had declined to define the closer role thus far, turned to Hector Neris in the home half. It did not go well. With two outs and a man on second, Freeman was intentionally walked. If the decision to replace Nola was in any way based on the head-to-head matchup, this decision could not have been. It meant that Neris would be facing Markakis, a solidly unspectacular hitter who was nonetheless 7-14 against him. As if on cue, Markakis smashed a three-run walk-off homer. Braves, 8 – Phillies, 5
One of the theories about the curiously quick hook for Nola was an analytic regarding his effectiveness the third time he faced a lineup. For his career, Nola had posted an OBA around .215 the first time through, closer to .180 on the second look and ballooning to .300+ on the third pass. On first blush that seems understandable. But, most of those numbers were amassed before he began to change his workout approach and strengthen himself last season. Additionally, with a 5-0 lead, Nola had some room for error even if the third time through the lineup bit him. Kapler should have been thinking in terms of preserving his pen with less dependable starters scheduled for games two and three of the set.
Literally, one game into his time with the Phillies the loudest factions of Phillies Nation were officially done with Kapler. Alternative theories and ‘outside the box’ thinking are not usually welcomed in this sport which clings to tradition more than most. When good results don’t accompany such peculiar philosophies, patience tends to wane quickly.
Cesar Hernandez homered for the second straight Opening Day, becoming the first Phillie to do that since a shortstop named Freddy Galvis did it way back in 2016 & 2017. So, yeah …
Having pressed most of his bullpen into service in apparent spite of his ace’s effectiveness in the opener, Kapler now had Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez on the hill for the remainder of the series. Neither of whom were known for getting particularly deep into their starts. Additionally, we learned that Pat Neshek, perhaps the most dependable arm in the pen, had been placed on the DL with soreness in his shoulder and lat.
Rhys Hoskins, last year’s breath of fresh air whose record setting debut reinvigorated the team and fan base, led off the 2nd inning with a rocket that soared over the Phillies bullpen and into the upper deck to put his team in front 1-0. Pivetta only lasted four innings and left trailing 3-2. Free agent acquisition Carlos Santana, who had already knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly, smoked an 0-1 pitch into the restaurant seats in right field to even things up in the top of the 5th. A pinch hit single by Nick Williams scored Aaron Altherr and put the Phils ahead in the 6th. In the bottom of the 8th, the Bravos got to Garcia tying the game and appearing to go ahead when former Phillie Peter Bourjos raced home on a double by suspected Gone with the Wind character Dansby Swanson. Hoskins had made a clean throw to shortstop J.P. Crawford and Crawford’s relay home was on target. Replay showed that Bourjos’ foot had missed home plate and the call was reversed, resulting in a 4-4 tie that would carry into extra innings. Another Santana sacrifice fly put the visitors ahead in the 11th and Drew Hutchinson, a former Toronto Blue Jay and Pittsburgh Pirate, pitched a second scoreless inning for his first win as a Phillie and Kapler’s first as a major league manager. Phillies, 5 – Braves, 4
The Phillies bats, led once again by Hoskins, spotted Velasquez a 2-0 lead in the first inning and there just isn’t much more positive to say after that. Vinny from Philly lasted only 2-2/3, allowing seven runs in a hail of poor defense, funky bounces and general ineffectiveness. The new skipper gave his detractors some fresh ammunition when he marched on to the field to pull his starter. He called for a left-hander. The problem was that only the righthander Victor Arano was ready to go. The lefty in question, Milner, had just gotten up and started getting loose. Braves skipper Brian Snitker got himself ejected while complaining about all the time Milner was being given to warm up. Meanwhile, Braves third baseman Ryan Flaherty, who you may remember as the warm body the Phils had mopping up at third in the 8th and 9th inning all spring, was picked up by Atlanta after he was cut at the end of camp. Yeah, him … he went 4-for-5 (and 7-13 for the series) as the Braves racked up 19 hits. The last of which was a two-run tater by Lane Adams off of Phillies utility man Pedro Florimon. Ugghh … nuff said. Braves, 15 – Phillies, 2
Every team builds a ‘weather day’ into their opening series. Traditionally, it’s the day immediately after the opener. But, in observance of the Easter holiday, the Braves opted to clear Sunday on the schedule and the weather cooperated, resulting in the ultra-rare Sunday off.
Yes, there is a lot to complain about. That’s why we’ll try to focus on the positives. The Phils have scored first in all three games. Hoskins hit the ground running with an RBI double in his first plate appearance of the season. He is 5-for-10 with a homer and three runs batted in and a couple of runs scored. Kingery eventually found his way onto the field and collected four knocks in his first nine trips to the plate. Nola threw 48 strikes in his 68 pitches. Relievers Hutchinson, Arano and Ramos have combined for 4-2/3 innings allowing only one unearned run. Wow, really reaching there. Wish there was more …
It’s a small sample size, yes. But, Kapler seems to be so intent on imposing his will and philosophy onto this team that he is willing to make controversial decisions seemingly for the sake of making them. As a result, he ends up looking like the guy refusing an umbrella and standing defiantly in the rain while all around him struggle to understand why. His analytics-based approach, like playing the odds at a black jack table, is based on how the percentages serve you over the long haul. But, in the moment, he is just losing chips to the house. Don’t expect him to bend to pressure. He clearly believes in his approach and appears willing to drive this train until he runs out of track.
Looking Ahead –
What this team needs is a bounce back series. A real confidence builder in a ballpark where they always seem to play well. Unfortunately, they are headed to Flushing, Queens to play the New York Mets. This is not good news. Over the last 60 times these two teams have met, the Phillies have managed only 18 wins. Ben Lively, Nola and Pivetta will be your starters. The Miami Marlins are the opponents for the opening series at Citizens Bank Park. Giancarlo Stanton is in the Bronx and Christian Yelich is now a Milwaukee Brewer. It will be interesting to see if the team that remains is able to compete. The April 8 game should be the highly anticipated Phillies debut of pitcher Jake Arrieta.
Do It Yourselfer of the Week –
San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik hit a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in each of the first two games of the year. This was by no means an unprecedented feat, except that both games ended with the score 1-0. Never in the recorded history of professional baseball has one player provided all of the offense via solo homers in consecutive 1-0 games to begin a season.
More Phillies: Jim Thome Elected To The Baseball Hall Of Fame
Opening Tre of the Week –
Chicago White Sox DH Matt Davidson hit three, count ‘em, three homers on Opening Day in Kansas City. You might think that kind of feat is a springboard to Cooperstown. But, here are the other fellas to do it – George Bell (Toronto 1988), Dmitri Young (Detroit 2005) and the unforgettable Karl Derrick ‘Tuffy’ Rhodes of the 1994 Chicago Cubs. Maybe let’s hold that plaque for now, huh?