Monday, October 25, 2010

That pitch looked low to me, too!

His expression says it all: "Are you kiddin' me? He didn't really call that, did he?"

You know what they tell you in Little League: "If it's close, you gotta swing!"

You could almost hear the fans thinking through their disbelief that the season had ended: "You blew it, Howard! They pay you big bucks to come up big in situations like this! Dude! You had two runners on and a chance to win the game! C'MON!!"

Okay, that's a certain extent. Ryan Howard had no RBIs in the post season. That's "unthinkable". But can you tell me one position Phillies player who had more hits? A better average? I bet not.

Howard had 10 hits in 33 at bats in nine post season games. He hit no homer runs -- I will grant you that -- but he hit for a .303 average. That's good any any standards. He hit nearly 80 points higher than Raul Ibanez, the next "highest" hitter on the team in the post season with an average of .226.

Yeah, you read that right. The entire line-up went into a funk at the worst possible time. It hit .215 over nine games. They deserved to lose, given those numbers.

Yet, the starting pitchers and bullpen pitched so well that the Phillies challenged for a third straight pennant and a place in history. They lost four games to the Giants but they won two and they out scored the Giants 20-19 over six games. Five games were close. The Giants won three of them by one-run. It was a very close and well-played series.

So what gives? How could they have a much better team "on paper" and lose the series, 4-2?

Maybe you, too, noticed. They were out-managed.

It has to be said: Charlie Manuel came up small. He was out-coached by Bruce Boche, the Giants' manager.

I love how hard the Phils play for Manuel. I think his approach to running the team is perfect for a long 162-game season. There are a lot of highs and lows in a baseball season. You "maintain an even strain" and "let your players play" to use the standard cliches. It's smart to keep the clubhouse "happy" and to trust veteran players to play hard and give an honest effort. On those accounts, he's a great manager.

But here's where he failed. He was facing the best pitching staff in the majors. He was facing the best bullpen in baseball. He had to adjust to playing small ball and trying to win one-run games. He failed. The Phils never adjusted to the style of game the Giants were playing.

Game six is a perfect example. He had switched Chase Utley to the two hole on two occasions in the NCLS. Smart move, Charlie! You separated your two best hitters with a right-handed contact hitter, Placido Polanco. You made Boche think twice about bringing in his cadre of lefty relievers to face those all-star batters on your side. But you abandoned this heady strategy in must-win game six. You left Utley and Howard vulnerable to lefty relievers.

You made the correct move and inserted right-handed hitter Ben Francisco into the line-up in Game 4 in place of your slumping left-fielder, Raul Ibanez to face the lefty pitcher Madison Bumgardner. He had a hit and some great swings against the lefty, yet went back to Ibanez in game six.

San Francisco pitched four lefties against the Phils in innings 1 through 7. You wanna know why? The Phils line-up was loaded with left-handed hitters. You played right into their hands, Charlie.

The Phillies should have won this series...and they almost did despite their collective hitting slump. They had the better line-up on paper. They played hard and they played with heart. They just had the wrong manager in their dugout pulling the strings.

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