Thursday, September 07, 2006

Two Throws

The game came down to two throws, one ill-advised, the other perfect.

The ill-advised one was thrown by reliever Ryan Madson to Lance Berkman.

Madson had two strikes on the dangerous Berkman with the bases loaded and two outs, but instead of trying to finish him off with a fastball or his best pitch, a changeup, Madson hung a curve and Berkman cleared the bases with a double just inside the third base line. It was a poor pitch selection in a situation that already begged a number of questions. Why wasn’t Abraham Nunez guarding the line with two outs even though a left-handed batter was up? (Yes, I know, he was pulled over toward the hole with a lefty batting. Wouldn’t his positioning also be determined by the way Madson would pitch Berkman? What, precisely, was the plan with Berkman?) More to the point, why was the right-hander Madson facing Berkman in the first place since he is a switch hitter whose best side by far is from the left? Up until this point, the Phillies had been turning Berkman around to the right side at every opportunity, successfully, I might add!

Charlie Manuel’s post-game explanations don’t hold much water. He couldn’t use Aaron Fultz because his elbow is bothering him. Likewise, lefty Arthur Rhodes was not on the short list because he “wasn’t ready” and has a sore shoulder. (Few would have greeted that choice with glee anyway.) Manuel still had two other lefties to call on but rejected the idea of using Fabio Castro for the same old tired reason he has offered before: too young. (A batter later, Castro aged sufficiently to come into the game.) He also declined to use lefty Eude Brito, but no reason was offered. Probably not too young, not too old and most assuredly not just right.

Instead, Manuel stuck with Madson for another inning even though the record shows the tall right hander is more than likely to give up some runs sooner or later, unless, of course, his ERA just a shade under 6.00 is misleading. I, for one, am tired of watching Madson blow up. After the game he remarked that no one hit the ball hard that inning, but, lo and behold, when it was all over the Astros had scored three runs.

Despite the good starting pitching the Phils have received over the last few weeks, they have lost ground in the Wild Card chase, largely but not exclusively because overall their bullpen is failing to protect leads or ties. Throughout the season Larry Andersen has questioned a number of decisions by Phillies pitchers, particularly when he believes they try to be “too fine” instead of going after hitters. As a group, Phillies pitchers don’t impress me as knowing how to pitch. While I would agree games are as likely to be lost as won, Phillies pitchers make what appear to be more than their fair share of mistakes leading to losses. Who is responsible for this state of affairs? Charlie? Rich Dubee? The catchers? Everyone? I noticed Madson called Carlos Ruiz out to the mound at least two or three times during the fatal ninth inning. Frankly, I was under the impression Ruiz’ English was limited, but the two did seem to be communicating. Nunez also visited the mound briefly that inning, but only after Ruiz departed, meaning he wasn’t there to offer consecutive translation. Presumably, he was asking what the pitch was going to be and positioned himself accordingly. If so, that might explain why he was playing off the line when Berkman laced that double into the left field corner. I cannot recall if the visit came just before that pitch, but if it did, Madson made two mistakes: hanging it and throwing it to begin with!!!

The second critical throw of the night will also be debated, but from my perspective there is little to discuss.

With Nunez and David Dellucci on first and second respectively and one out, Jimmy Rollins laced a hard shot toward the right-centerfield gap. Centerfielder Willie Taveras cut the ball off nicely as Nunez scored and Dellucci stopped at third. Jimmy, running all the way, was gunned down by Taveras on an absolutely perfect throw to second. As it was, replays showed it was a bang-bang play and that Rollins was out. Jimmy did the right thing even though his was the second out of the ninth inning. Trying to stretch the play would have taken away the force and put men at second and third with one out. The ball he hit looked like it was headed for gap all the way and according to the announcers, Rollins never hesitated rounding first. Only a swift cut-off and textbook perfect throw on the fly nailed him. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred he makes it to second base. Unfortunately, the one time he wouldn’t was last night.

So, another late game collapse, their fourth in three consecutive series, leaves the Phils tied with the Marlins, three games behind the Padres. Like the late inning losses to Washington and Atlanta, this was a crushing defeat. Had the Phillies hit in the clutch earlier in the game when they twice loaded the bases against Andy Petitte, the outcome might have been different. Lost in all the excitement of Ryan Howard’s explosive hitting over the last month or so is the fact that Chase Utley, three home runs recently notwithstanding, is slumping badly. If the Phils expect to make a run of it from here on out, Utley has to rediscover his stroke immediately.

After the loss, the Phils left town last night for a four-game set with Florida in Miami. Until a year ago the Phillies couldn’t buy a win in south Florida but lately they have played well there. They are going to need their best game because right now Florida is the best team in baseball money didn’t have to buy. They are getting timely hitting and great pitching from their young staff, capped off by last night’s no-hitter by 22-year old rookie Anibal Sanchez. The Phils play Florida ten times in the remaining 23 games.


J. Weitzel said...

The throws you're referring to might be fresh in our minds this morning, but the outcome of the game had more to do with what you mentioned in paragraph nine: not taking advantage of RISP against Pettitte.

If I'm writing this post, Madson is down in graph nine. He was unlucky more than anything else. Taveras' hit went past the drawn-in infield after the intentional walk. They leave him in for Berkman, goes up 0-2 before Berkman inside-outs a ball down the line.

The question is what what he doing out there to begin with? With the bases loaded, that's a time Manuel clearly needs to go with the strikeout pitcher Gordon, or LHP Castro.

Back to the original point though. Utley, Howard and Burrell all went hitless, and Conine did not deliver big hits, either. Utley had very bad at bats, almost like he wasn't ready to hit. Howard will never see much the rest of the season, especially against good pitchers like Pettitte. And Burrell ... a guy like Pettitte can drop him like a bad habit. Inside-Inside-Away. That's all any pitcher needs to know about Burrell.

Tom Goodman said...

Jason: I agree that a few timely hits would have made all else moot, but as you also point out, why was Madson out there in the first place to face Berkman and what was he thinking? Erik Grissom has said all along the Phils' bullpen would kill them and it has. Timely hits may have been missing in innings 1 - 8, but the score might easily have been tied at 2-all in the bottom of the ninth when Jimmy hit that single and drove in Nunez.

Whether the Phils are good enough to win the WC is one thing. Whether they are smart enough is something else.

J. Weitzel said...

From watching this team closely for two seasons, Manuel is the type of manager who needs to have his relief pitchers work in a nice, clean order. And it's worked for him.

However, when one or two arms get hurt, and others struggle, he's no good at thinking on his feet, as we saw last night. How many heads did they have working on the Berkman dilemma, and they still got it wrong!

Tom Goodman said...

How many heads indeed! It came down to watching Madson blow another game or risking the ego of Castro. If it's risk management you want, Charlie, take a look at that 5.93 ERA Madson sports and then decide. I don't care how much tough luck he pitched in last night, the end result was a loss for which he was responsible.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

whatever about last night, and problems with charlies micro-managing skills vs his approach to a whole season, last night sounds like the kind of game which gives you no hope of making it in the post-season, where a smarter manager can have more of an impact in a short series.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

wow. could I write a more crappily constructed sentence? My apologies, and I hope the sense muddled its way through the awful syntax.

RickSchuBlues said...

Madson seemed to feel the whole affair was purely borne of bad luck, including his take on Berkman's "weird inside-out thing", but the pitch on which he hit the double was *up*, a hanger as you describe it. When you get your pitches up, a hitter can get a poor swing or even be fooled by the pitch and still put it in play with authority. Perhaps the placement of the hit was fortunate, but I credit Berkman, a good hitter who was able to do something with what essentially was a bad pitch in a huge spot.

Manuel's ninth-inning adventures on this homestand were pretty wrenching, and with each passing game his subsequent explanations got weaker and weaker. If he knew that Rhodes and Fultz weren't available, and that he wouldn't use Castro in the ninth - wouldn't you save your only remaining left-handed option, Matt Smith (who got Berkman out in Monday's game), for a more meaningful situation than facing him with the bases empty and two outs in the seventh, after Geoff Geary had just blown away the first two hitters of the inning? Why not use *Castro* in the seventh? And then, his reasoning not to pitch Gordon - saving him for the tenth? Why do you assume a tenth inning if you're paying at home and the nintb inning hasn't yet begun? Do you play to win now, or in hypothetical extra innings? Do you have a better chance of keeping the score where it is with Gordon, or Madson? So, there was no tenth inning. That's a mistake that needs to be learned from and not stubbornly defended.

After all that, nevertheless, I agree with Jason that the game was moreover lost by the Phillies' failure to score when they had excellent chances to bury the Astros. Tbey came up smaller than small, and given the problems they have in that bullpen, this trend of not being able to take advantage of scoring opportunities is going to kill their chances of competing the rest of the way, if it they don't manage to quickly reverse it.

Tom Goodman said...

RSB: Your analysis gets my proxy for this game. Perfect, especially the comments on Matt Smith. What annoys me most in baseball is when you have a guy pitching as well as Geary did to the first two batters and the manager yanks him to go with the percentages. Great analysis, RSB.

gr said...

our choices, with regard to manuel's use of the bullpen, appear to be these: (1) half-assed undermangement, ie the 9th inning; (2) half assed over-management, ie the 8th inning.

Maria said...

I don't think Charlie plays percentages or at least not well. If he had, than he would've let Castro pitch to Berkman. or he would've let Gordon come in & pitch. Cholly looks clueless out there.

Anonymous said...

That's beacuse Chilly is clueless out there.

Anonymous said...


gr said...

by the way, jason, sounds like what your saying is that manuel can't actually manage a bullpen, which i agree pretty much with. i mean, honestly, if all the relievers' roles click and work in a nice neat organized manner, that's not really managing, is it? that's more like reading off a teleprompter.

Corey & Carson said...

Excellent conversation in regards to Manuel's mis-management of his bullpen. This has been one of my major gripes with him from the time he came to Philly. He uses to much "conventional wisdom" when making his decisions. For example, pulling starters because their pitch count is close to 100, regardless of how well they're pitching. Or pulling a reliever mid-inning to go with "percentages". Or going with old mediocre pitchers instead of giving promising younsters a chance. The list goes on and one, and I'm afraid the season will end with Manuel making just enough mistakes to screw the Phils out of the Wild Card.