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Sunday, October 17, 2010
Phillies' Manuel devises perfect lineup


The Phillies have a different lineup tonight. Exactly the same players, just in different spots.

Here was the Game 1 lineup (not including pitcher):

1. Shane Victorino
2. Placido Polanco
3. Chase Utley
4. Ryan Howard
5. Jayson Werth
6. Jimmy Rollins
7. Raul Ibanez
8. Carlos Ruiz

And tonight's:

1. Shane Victorino
2. Chase Utley
3. Placido Polanco
4. Ryan Howard
5. Jayson Werth
6. Jimmy Rollins
7. Raul Ibanez
8. Carlos Ruiz

Just one tiny change, but let's look at the two lineups again, but this time with each player represented by one of three letters:

Game 1: SRLLRSLR
Game 2: SLRLRSLR

Boom. The Phillies' lineup, already a wonderful mélange of left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters and switch-hitters, is now perfectly alternating, without a single instance of consecutive left- or right-handed hitters.

Of course, this Game 2 change is a response to the Phillies' Game 1 loss, in which left-handed reliever Javier Lopez was summoned in the eighth inning and dispatched lefty hitters Utley and Howard, which eased the way for Brian Wilson to earn the four-out save.

This is an old story. In Ibanez's first game with the Phillies last year, he batted fifth, making three left-handed hitters in a row: Utley, Howard and Ibanez. In the ninth inning of that game, the Phillies got a rally going against reliever Mike Gonzalez, but the rally fell short when Gonzalez, a lefty, struck out Howard and Ibanez to end the game.

Ibanez batted sixth in the Phillies' next seven games, and for most of the season's first six weeks. After that, he moved around a lot. This year -- with the presence of Polanco and the emergence of Werth and the first-half struggles of Ibanez -- there wasn't any rationale for putting three lefty hitters together in the lineup.

Problem solved, right?

Except where last year -- and this year, until Saturday night -- two lefties together in the lineup didn't seem like a problem, suddenly it does. To Charlie Manuel, anyway.

The move doesn't bother me. But ask yourself this: If the Phillies had won last night, would Manuel have made the switch? If Utley or Howard had gotten a hit against Lopez last night, would Manuel have made the switch?

Managers have to do things like this. It's what we expect of them. Still, if splitting up Utley and Howard is truly a good idea -- or more to the point, if Manuel thinks it's a good idea -- why did he wait until the middle of October to do it?