As we close out July, the Phillies are in first place, 11 games over .500. They’ve been able to accomplish this with a roster that has its fair share of shortcomings. This was a team that was 30 games under .500 last season and finished in the bottom of their division. They are also the youngest team in baseball and have a first-year manager.
When you take all of that into account, you have to be pretty pleased if you're a Phillies fan. You also have to give major props to said first-year manager, Gabe Kapler. His detractors will point back to his moves in the first series of the season, his reliance on analytics, use of the bullpen, shifting, brand of coconut oil, etc. Most of which is nonsense.
Any manager or front office worth a damn incorporates analytics and has been for a very long time. For the most part this season, the shifts have paid off. Were there mistakes made in the opening series in Atlanta? Yes. That was more than 100 games ago. And the bullpen maneuvering is mostly done out of necessity. He has managed with his gut, not just by a printout.
But the thing that really chafes Phillies fans more than anything is the way Kapler speaks. He’s heavy on nicknames. Any given pre-or- post-game gathering, you will likely hear a “Mikey,” “Ef,” “Noles,” “Stretch.” There will be plenty of confidence preached. Or someone presenting well, coming out of the skipper’s mouth. It’s not your typical baseball-speak. To me, that is all nonsense, window dressing. People didn’t like Charlie Manuel’s southern drawl. They came around real quick when they realized he was the right guy for that group of players.
It’s what else Kapler says, particularly after games, that is more open to debate or interpretation. No matter how ugly the game, he is Captain Sunshine, Positive Pete. There could be several reasons for this approach. He has a genuinely positive outlook on life, no glass is half-empty. He is deflecting any negative attention away from his players. And on a related note, he takes into account the age of his team and feels the need to be the protective mother hen. All valid reasons.
But the issue with that approach is, it’s insulting to the fans. If you lose a 3-2 crisply played game, I have no issue with a manager throwing around platitudes and crediting certain players or situations. But when you lose a game 13-2 in hideous fashion, spare us the kudos to the mop-up guy who threw two clean innings.
There’s a fine line between throwing one of your players under the bus and admitting “we didn’t field, hit or pitch well enough." There’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody’s asking Kapler to be Larry Bowa or Dallas Green. The media and fans, and most importantly his players, are astute enough to know what went down and who did what.
I believe Kapler has done an excellent job this season. And if this is the biggest gripe, then that’s a good problem. But it is one of the things I hope that he does away with as he gains experience as a manager.