The Phillies have begun a 10-game homestand with a three-gamer against the division rival Washington Nationals.
Look, I have already written two articles in this “Opposition Roadblock: series about the Washington Nationals. And honestly, they have just one guy who is even remotely impressive at this point.
While Bryce Harper is still, far and away, the best player in the National League (if not all of baseball), Daniel Murphy has out-hit all of baseball to this point. Don’t ask me how, because I still think he is not as good as his numbers show.
I am not going to write another article praising Murphy, because I may vomit. We already know how game-altering Harper is, so it would be a waste of your time.
I am also not going to pretend that Jayson Werth, Ben Revere, the suddenly warmed-up Anthony Rendon, or any other player on the Nationals overrated offense is going to impact the game because that would be an insult to your intelligence.
So I will write about who I believe is the true roadblock for this series: the Philadelphia Phillies themselves.
The last seven games I have watched a different Phillies team play than the one that showed up for the previous month.
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In Detroit, they were outplayed the first two games. There really is no argument to be made against that. They stole the last one, and salvaged our hopes for another day of possibly contending.
But then I saw an obvious change heading into Wrigley Field. The Philadelphia Phillies team we had fallen in love with disappeared. They did not have the swagger they had been playing with for much of the first two months.
I watched Odubel Herrera strike out more times in that Cubs series than I remember seeing in all of 2016. Instead of unnecessary bat flips, we were watching him drag his bat behind him, as if he had been scolded by his fourth grade teacher for forgetting his homework.
That’s what the Phillies looked like this past weekend: little kids playing against men. And they really are just that, to some extent. But against Chicago, they looked the part.
The Phils allowed the Cubs to play the role of teacher. They looked as frightened as the faces I see on the first day of school. They went in expecting to lose and did just that. They were outclassed by a team that should outclass them, but it looked as if they Phillies believed that too.
That is something I had not seen all season. The reason they had been so successful was because they believed they could be. It had nothing to do with numbers. In all honesty, they were winning in spite of those numbers.
The early winning was a result of something more. It was coming from a feeling that they genuinely belonged contending with the Mets and Nationals.
The Phillies are not going to win with more talent…at least not yet. That day will come again soon. In the same breath, we watched last night as a team already hampered with less talent was taken out of the game by their manager.
Pete Mackanin has been as pleasant a surprise as any player on the roster this year. He has been steady and solid in his decisions, but last night, I had many moments where I was questioning his decisions.
It began with starting Ryan Howard only 24 hours after saying he would be eliminating some time from the former superstar. I don’t care what changed his mind. Simply put, his mind should have stayed with his original thought process.
We need to see Tommy Joseph every day. The team needs to see Joseph in the lineup every day. There is no excuse otherwise right now, especially when the alternative, Howard, is hitting below my weight.
The questionable choices by the skipper then moved into his decision to pull Jeremy Hellickson, who had only thrown 78 pitches and was cruising. It appeared that this might be in order to get Hector Neris innings.
Hellickson was fine. He was actually dominant. Despite one mistake to the new Babe Ruth (Murphy), he was just fantastic. The goal is to win games, not find work for a reliever when it is not necessary.
And what about when that reliever does not have his dominant stuff? What about when that reliever finds a way to walk Revere, a guy who walked like 13 times in his three-year career in Philadelphia? What about when he follows that walk with another to a guy who played baseball against my division three college?
Then, when Neris obviously did not have his dominant stuff, Pete left him in to face the Nationals only true threat in Murphy, who, of course, promptly knocked in his second and third runs of the game. Neris should not have made it past Revere. Jeanmar Gomez should have been in the game to face Chris Heisey.
Finally, Mackanin put Joseph in a situation that the rookie is just not fit for at this point. As much as we dislike Jonathon Papelbon, he is a smart pitcher. He knew how to get Joseph out, and was salivating (in the most toolish of ways) when he saw the rookie set foot in the box.
Why not Andres Blanco in that spot? A guy who is comfortable in the role and has hit Papelbon in a big spot already this season would have been a superior decision.
Look, I am probably being really tough on Mackanin here. The guy has been awesome thus far. But with a team lacking offense and needing all the right decisions from the manager in order to win, he made a ton of mistakes last night.
The Phillies are still in a better spot than most expected. However, for them to continue their unexpected success, it is time to get out of their own way. Have some fun again. Believe you belong. If they can do that, the wins will begin to accrue once again.