Phillies

Phillies avoid status quo with Gabe Kapler hire

Phillies avoid status quo with Gabe Kapler hire

Gabe Kapler’s formal introduction to Philadelphia will come later this week following the conclusion of the World Series.

His informal indoctrination as Phillies manager came Monday afternoon when he stepped off the plane at Philadelphia International Airport and was greeted by the city’s unofficial welcoming committee — "Johnny Airport" himself, John Clark.

Kidding aside, Kapler’s impact on the Phillies is a story on its first page, let alone chapter. With no previous track record as a major-league manager or coach to rely upon, we’re basically all guessing what Kapler brings to the table. 

So what can we reasonably take away from the Kapler hire right now? 

• Status quo simply will not do for the Phillies anymore. There was a time, not that long ago, when the organization likely would have hired Dusty Wathan as the next manager. He’s been a good soldier for the club at the minor-league level, winning games while developing some of the talent that has now arrived at the big-league level (more on him here). I actually think those factors worked against Wathan this time around. Starting with managing partner John Middleton and working down to GM Matt Klentak, the mandate for a fresh approach has been made clear. You could argue that the three most prominent roles in the organization — team president, general manager and manager — are now helmed by three men (Andy MacPhail, Klentak and Gabe Kapler) who had no ties to the organization as early as two and a half years ago.

• The front office wants more say in the day-to-day roster usage and game management. That doesn’t mean that Pete Mackanin did not use analytics in creating lineups or managing the pitching staff. It also should not be interpreted to mean that Kapler is just turning his lineup card over to the club’s recently bolstered analytics department and calling it a day. But I think it’s safe to assume that the days of starting Cameron Perkins as a leadoff hitter six times in a season are gone. It’s just logical to have a manager and front office as united as possible on how the roster is being deployed.

• It’s a low-risk, high-reward hire. Hiring a manager is an uncertain endeavor, a fact more crystallized when the selection has no prior experience at the big-league level. It’s possible that Kapler’s methods, whatever they might be, will not be received by the players. Then again, Kapler may be a revelation, a force of nature the likes of which has never be seen in the Phillies' dugout. Either way, managers are not forever. They are replaced with relative ease. More importantly, Kapler is not going to deliver Sixto Sanchez to the big leagues fully healthy and dominating the competition. And Kapler is not going to help Mickey Moniak take the steps necessary to develop into the player the Phillies dreamt of when taking the high school product first overall. It’s in individuals like that where the Phillies’ future success or failure ultimately lies.

So basically, we’ll have to wait and see with Gabe Kapler. It may work. It may not. The only thing we can truly count on in this world is "Johnny Airport."

Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies won four out of six games on their road trip through the South and manager Gabe Kapler was happy with that. He said so in word after Wednesday night’s trip-ending, 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park (see first take). He said so in action in the eighth inning.

“All in all, you go on the road and you go 4-2, you feel good coming home,” Kapler said. “That's the biggest positive from this. We're going to go home stronger than when we left on this road trip. It's not an easy thing to do in baseball. I'm proud of our guys for doing that.”

Kapler’s satisfaction with the trip was evident even before the game ended. Lefty specialist Hoby Milner entered the game with one out in the eighth inning and the Phils down by two runs. His job, ostensibly, was to retire lefty hitters Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. He retired neither. Up came right-handed hitting Kurt Suzuki. The situation screamed for a right-hander but Kapler stuck with Milner and he allowed an RBI single as the Braves pulled away with three runs in the inning to salt the game away.

Entering the game, Milner had allowed a .375 batting average (21 for 56) to right-handed hitters and a .158 (12 for 76) average to lefty hitters for his career. Despite this, Kapler did not even have a right-hander up in the bullpen. In fact, no one was up. Kapler indicated that he had faith that Milner could get the job done.

But there was more to it, as well.

“At that point it was time to look, in part, to save our bullpen,” Kapler said. “That was the right time to save our bullpen and put them in a good position to succeed going forward.”

Kapler’s thinking was not unheard. Ask any manager and he’ll tell you, some nights you have give the bullpen a break, take one step back for the chance to take two forward in subsequent days, and that’s just what Kapler did. After all, the ‘pen did pick up five innings the night before. But the flip side to this was the Phils were down only two runs with the middle of the order due up in the ninth. Keep the difference at two runs and maybe you can rally. Five runs — different story.

All this made one wonder if Kapler didn’t believe his offense could pull it out in the ninth.

“We always have full confidence that the guy on the mound can get outs,” Kapler said. “So this, at least, was as much about our belief in Hoby to be able to get outs in that situation, and, also, preserve arms in the bullpen. And, also, we believe in our offense to be able to come back and put a big number up. Always.”

The Phils ended up scoring a run in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. Vince Velasquez gave up a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth when he allowed a walk, a single and a three-run homer to new Phillie killer Ryan Flaherty. The Braves were in control the rest of the way. They have beaten the Phillies in four of six meetings this season.

Phillies end road trip with loss to Braves

Phillies end road trip with loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Ryan Flaherty spent spring training with the Phillies on a minor-league contract. He hit .351 with three doubles, a homer and eight RBIs. He played in the infield and the outfield. Flaherty did enough to win a spot on the Phillies’ opening day roster, but was a victim of a numbers crunch so the team granted him his release in the final week of camp. 

In need of some help at third base after Johan Camargo went down with an oblique injury, the Braves signed Flaherty to a big-league deal and installed him as their opening day third baseman.

All Flaherty has done since joining the Braves is hit. He entered Wednesday hitting .354, fifth best in the majors and .130 points better than his career average. He’s been especially tough on the Phillies. He swatted a three-run home run Wednesday night and the Phillies never recovered in a 7-3 loss at SunTrust Park. Flaherty also had an RBI single in the game.

In six games against the Phillies this season, Flaherty has 11 hits, including three doubles and a homer. Despite Flaherty’s strong start, the Braves appear to be making other plans at third base. Camargo came off the disabled list on Wednesday and the team also signed veteran Jose Bautista with the intention of looking at him at third base when he’s ready to go.

Flaherty’s three-run home run came against Vince Velasquez in the fifth inning.

Velasquez had helped himself with an RBI single in the top of the fifth to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. But the right-hander let the lead get away quickly when he allowed a leadoff walk, a single and Flaherty’s three-run homer all with no outs in the bottom of the inning.

Flaherty hit a first-pitch fastball that registered 94 mph.

Those were the only runs that Velasquez allowed in six innings of work. He struck out seven and walked one. That walk became a run.

Braves starter Brandon McCarthy held the Phillies to one run over 5 1/3 innings.

The Phillies ended up losing two out of three in the series and are 2-4 against the Braves on the season. The Phils did not do a lot of scoring in this series. They lost the opener, 2-1. They won the second game, 5-1, but scored four of their runs in the 10th inning. They scored just three runs in the finale.

They probably would have had one more run if it weren’t for Ender Inciarte. The Braves’ defensive whiz centerfielder rose above the wall in left-center to steal a home run away from Scott Kingery in the first inning. Inciarte, like Flaherty, was once Phillies property, a former Rule 5 pick that the club chose not to keep around.