As I sit here, hours before my beloved Phillies start what could be their last game of the season, I can’t help but wonder what has Charlie been thinking? I will be the first to admit that I love Charlie Manuel. He has been a great manager for the Phillies, and has taken them to unprecedented heights for this team, but this postseason has been riddled with questionable calls.
Last night Jayson Stark tweeted the following about one of Charlie’s many puzzling decisions (the decision to have Antonio Bastardo pitch to Buster Posey): “If Charlie Manuel was going to bring in Madson in this inning, not sure why he waited until after Posey doubled off a LHP. Any theories?” My reply sums up my belief on what has happened to Charlie, “Charlie’s body has been invaded by an alien who doesn’t know baseball. Only explanation for all of his curious moves recently.” For those who haven’t been watching or who have lost count, let’s discuss some of the questionable calls made during Game 4:
1. Allowing Joe Blanton to pitch to Aubrey Huff in the 5th when Bastardo was ready in the bullpen. Huff went on to hit a run scoring single, driving in Andres Torres who was on second after pinch-hitting for Madison Bumgarner. Since it is clear that Charlie had decided to pull Blanton at some point in the fifth if he got in trouble, why not play the matchup game? I know that Huff had a .200 batting average against Blanton going into the game, but those numbers came in a small sample size (21 plate appearances, most of them coming several years ago). Huff also hit lefties pretty well during his career, batting .275 or 11 points below his career average against righties. Why allow Huff to hit against Blanton?
2. Not having Jimmy Rollins bunt with Jayson Werth on 2nd in the 8th. With Werth standing on second with no outs after driving in Ryan Howard, the only logical response would have been to have a struggling Rollins sacrifice Werth to third in an attempt to secure another run. Following Werth’s double, Rollins popped out and Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz struck out. Werth was left standing on second and the Phillies were staring at a tied ballgame.
3. Also in the 8th inning, not pinch-hitting for Francisco. Manuel has allowed Bruce Bochy to dictate matchups throughout much of the NLCS and this was another case. I will excerpt from Jose Arangure Jr.’s article for ESPN to explain why this was ill-advised:
For the most important at-bat of the season to that point, Manuel chose to stick with a player (Francisco) who entered the game with just one plate appearance in the entire playoffs.
Bochy has been extremely reluctant to use Affeldt during the playoffs (he’s pitched just one inning), yet Manuel allowed the entire sequence to be affected by the possibility of Affeldt pitching. This year, left-handed batters had a gaudy .837 OPS against Affeldt, almost 100 points higher than what right-handed batters hit against him.
But Manuel simply could have used Ibanez. Only once in the seven times when Affeldt and Ibanez faced each other — the first time in 2004 — did an at-bat end with Ibanez behind in the count, and not once did an at-bat end in a strikeout. So far Affeldt has been unable to fool Ibanez (2-for-6, including a triple against him during the regular season).
4. Using Roy Oswalt in the ninth. This move baffled everyone. As I sat on the couch, the twittersphere exploded with tweets of surprise. Why would Charlie use Oswalt in this spot, potentially blowing him for Game 6? This game was not an elimination game. It was an important game, some might even say a must-win, but even with the loss the Phillies are still playing today. You don’t make moves like using a starter in the 9th inning of a tied game unless the game is do-or-die. This move makes the non-use of Roy Halladay to start the game even more confusing. If Charlie was wiling to use one of the starters on short rest (even if it were only in relief), why not start your best pitcher? Charlie treated this game like an elimination game, and if he felt the game was that important you need to have your best pitcher on the mound. I respect Blanton, but you have to start Doc in that game. Now the question remains, what is the rotation going forward? Does Oswalt still start Game 6, or do you push Cole Hamels up and have Oswalt pitch Game 7? If Oswalt pitches Game 6, how will his Game 4 experience affect his start?
Other than criticism for Charlie’s moves, the Giants deserve some props for playing well and making their own luck. Last night, in a storm of tweets, I wrote “Seriously! This is getting ridiculous. When do we start discussing Giants as team of destiny? Only way to explain this series.” The Giants have gotten all the breaks and have made his own. For those keeping score: the Giants have three wins against H2o as starters (2 as starters and one as a reliever), the Phillies have committed errors and wild pitches that have led to runs, the Giants’ pitching staff has been excellent, the Giants have gotten production from guys who are bench/platoon players at best while the Phillies have not been able to hit. It’s clear that the aura that has been around the Phillies is slightly tarnished and perhaps is on its way to being transferred to the Giants.
The Phillies now have their backs against the wall and need Doc to spin some magic tonight. Do I think they can come back from a 3-1 deficit? Yes. ESPN and other media outlets will be trumpeting the fact that 72 teams have trailed 3 games to 1 in best-of-7 postseason series and only 11 came back to win the series. This fact has no bearing on this series, but is illustrative. The Phillies have a mountain to climb, but with Doc, Hamels and Oswalt going in some order, they have the pitchers to make it happen. Will H2o return to their September form and will the offense wake up? In order to advance, the Phillies need the answer to be yes.