- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Charlie Manuel’s Philadelphia Phillies are off to a poor start, for various reasons, and while it’s certainly too early to panic that the only team to win the NL East since 2007 is in real danger, it has been interesting to watch the manager work with lesser talent so far. Let’s face it: Most managers of winning teams have good players performing at a high level. When the talent gets hurt, gets old or struggles, the manager hits the hot seat.
Manuel is far from being at risk of losing his job; he has won a lot of games, including a World Series, and he’s going nowhere unless he wants to, but it’s not just his players underperforming after four games. Manuel is struggling as well. Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley delved further into Manuel’s strange bullpen usage so far, focusing on the leverage index.
Hey, I’ve been thinking it as well! It’s ridiculous that old-time managers refuse to summon their closers, in many cases their top relief pitcher, in a tie game in the ninth inning on the road. They’re waiting for save chances, but there are few statistics as meaningless as the save. Sending the likes of Joe Blanton and David Herndon to the mound to extend tie games, while the $50 million closer spits sunflower seeds in the bullpen, is a waste. Blanton and Herndon, the team’s worst starting pitcher and relief pitcher, respectively, predictably lost their games, combining to allow four hits and two runs, while facing nine batters, and earning four outs. Jonathan Papelbon faced three batters all weekend.
However, on Monday afternoon while down 5-2 in the top of the ninth inning at home against the Miami Marlins, here comes Papelbon to get some work. Papelbon permitted an Austin Kearns home run, but there’s no way to tell if that would have happened Saturday or Sunday in a tie game. There was no leverage in using Papelbon Monday.
As Baer points out, Manuel doesn’t seem to get it. Luckily for him, he has another 158 games to figure things out and still catch ... ahem ... the New York Mets for first place. Unfortunately, his offense is a mess without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and his bullpen after Papelbon appears to be in bad shape as well. Is Manuel really a great manager or has he simply benefited from an abundance of talent over the years? It’s a reasonable question.
I like Manuel. And it’s only four games. But asking the likes of Laynce Nix to lay down ninth-inning sacrifice bunts -- he has a grand total of four in more than 1,800 career plate appearances -- is foolish. Nix did not get the job done. Most bunts, for that matter, are a bad idea, as giving away free outs is counterproductive; misplaced No. 3 hitter Jimmy Rollins, whether on his own or by instruction, sacrificed in the first inning with runners on first and second over the weekend. He moved the runners, the Phillies scored one run. It was their lone run of the game. Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton, each incapable of getting on base or defending properly, are playing too much, but there appears no end in sight there. The starting pitchers need to be allowed to go deeper into games (Vance Worley threw only 78 pitches Sunday before being removed). At least Manuel can’t really be blamed for stunting Domonic Brown’s growth ... well, on second thought.
Manuel sure is lucky to have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. When he wins his sixth consecutive division title, nobody will -- or should -- remember what happened in the first week. But it’s still worth debating.
Now, about New York Yankees leader Joe Girardi ...
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