The Phillies season ended yesterday as an Edgar Renteria home run in the tenth inning propelled the Braves to a 5-3 win on opening day.
Charlie “I Need a Friggin’” Manuel, the Phillies manager, did his part by inexplicably batting reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard third swapping the first baseman with the Phils’ usual number three hitter second base man Chase Utley in order to “protect” Howard in the lineup. There was no explanation as to why Manuel felt the need to switch them defensively as well. Watching Howard attempt to turn the doubleplay was painful. I’m joking of course.
This strategy failed the Phils twice in the game. The Braves went ahead and gave Howard a free pass in the ninth to put men on first and second and the Phils failed to score. Also, in the top of the fifth, after Atlanta had grabbed the first lead of the game, Howard’s bulk got in the way of an Utley batted ball resulting in Howard being called out. Had they been reversed in the lineup, since the Phils had their first three batters reach base that inning, Utley could have scored (instead of moving to third) on Helms ground out to first.
I know, the lineup does not really matter all that much, studies have shown. To wit, I will counter that “protecting” batters matters even less (studies have also shown), and why not have a lineup that at least makes sense. Howard is just too slow and too poor a base runner to bat third.
Manuel also screwed up a potential double-switch in the eighth when he brought in Matt Smith to pitch to one batter after Myers had given up the lead to an all too meaty 0-2 fastball to Renteria for his first home run. Smith was the fifth batter due up in the bottom of the eighth, and I would have switched him with number two hitter, Shane Victorino, who was 0-for-4 with two Ks and two weak grounders on the day, and brought Jayson Werth in to play right to improve my offense.
Maybe conventional wisdom would be against it since as the home team you are playing for the win and Matt Smith wasn’t going to pitch the ninth anyway. Besides, Victorino doubled to start a stunted two-out rally in the ninth. My response would be instead of losing Tom Gordon to pinch hitter Greg Dobbs in the ninth, a double-switch would have had Werth coming up in that spot and would have potentially kept Gordon in another inning.
You can disagree with the double-switch, but my point is that Manuel doesn’t know how to double-switch so the point is moot. The double-switch is off the table with Manuel as a manager.
One more word on Myers: he is still a number three pitcher in my mind no matter how much talent he has. He pitched very well for seven innings yesterday, struck out nine, etc., but that meat pitch to Renteria epitomizes his career. He’s meat. He is a major-league Nuke Laloosh who never had a Crash Davis to mentor him. There’s no way Myers should be throwing the pitch he did to Renteria with an 0-2 count. He is more concerned with velocity than location. He’s meat and he will always be meat. Myers is now 26 and is in his sixth season, but he never seems to improve. I’d rather have Nino Espinosa in his prime: at least he tried to learn how to pitch.
Anyway, given the Phillies reactions after the game you would have thought it was the sixth game of the Series, not opening day:
"I wouldn't take this first one to [mean] we're done for the season," said Myers. "No, not at all. We're not getting down for any games. We need to get up for every game. This is only the first one. We have plenty more games to go. We can't let this one distract us."
"I guess the season is over," Rollins deadpanned.
"You've got to hang loose," Myers said. "We're going to be all right."
It’s opening day for crissake! I know they are trying to say the right things and “stay loose”, but did they think they were going 162-0? This loss will have no more meaning than the 86 or so others they will have this season.
But it did make me wonder if opening day record means anything over the course of the season. Or as Jimmie Rollins bloviated yesterday about being an A’s fan as a kid, "It's a special day. I didn't care if the A's won any other game as long as they won opening day. But they won some World Series. Hopefully, we can get that coming here." Does getting off on the right foot lead to the proverbial World Series crown or is it just another game?
I ran the numbers for all playoff teams and they win at a .611 clip:
All playoff Tms
Maybe there is something to getting off on the right foot. Hmm???
Well, consider that the overall record of these teams is not much different from their opening day record. (Actually it’s two percentage points better.) Good teams just tend to win, opening day or any other day in the season:
All playoff Tms
However, teams that win their league crown and the World Series championship tend to have an especially good record on opening day:
OK, I guess the Phils are right. It is time to panic: the Series is now lost. Oh horrors!
It’s a good thing for them that they have another game today. A win today will jumpstart their 161-1 campaign.