During the regular season, the Phillies lead the National League in runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. They were second in the NL in OBP and stolen bases. Yet in the playoffs they managed only eight runs in three games and as a team hit .172/.274/.366. The Phillies pitchers struggled all season long, but provided two quality starts during the NLDS, which the offense was unable to take advantage of. This was the main reason the Phillies lost the series. But what caused the meltdown?
Was hitting in the clutch the problem?
In short series like this one when a team doesn’t score a lot of runs it can often be traced back to not being able to get some key hits. A few bloop singles that drive in runs with two outs can help in the regular season but, over 162 games, things like that tend to even out. In a short series though, getting a few of these hits often lead to success and not getting them can lead to failure (just ask the Cubs). The Phillies put up a .091/.333/.273 line with runners in scoring position during the series. While that is a terrible line, it isn’t much worse than their overall line. Also, the Phillies managed just 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position the entire series. Lack of clutch hitting didn’t lose this series for the Phillies, the inability to get runners on and into scoring position was the cause.
Did the stars show up?
The Phillies offense this year was lead by Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Aaron Rowand. In Bryan Tsao’s preview of the series, he noted that those four players represented four of the top five offensive players in the series. When you have four players of this caliber, you tend to have a very consistent offense. If one or two of them aren’t playing well, you have other options to carry the load. Other managers would kill for an offense like this. With the exception of Rollins, the Phillies stars’ bats went out like the lights at Coors field. Rollins managed a .944 OPS despite batting just .182. Howard had an OPS of .808 but no walks during the series and seven strikeouts. Utley had all kinds of trouble with Rockies left-handers going hitless in seven at-bats with five strikeouts and a .490 OPS overall. Lastly, Rowand mustered just a solo home run in his 12 at-bats limping to a .417 OPS. For the Phillies to win this series they simply needed more production from the heart of their order.
Did Charlie Manuel help or hurt?
Manuel definitely didn’t help the situation with a few questionable moves. In the top of the fourth in game two Manuel, intentionally walked Yorvit Torrealba with a man on second and two outs. Clint Hurdle then lifted his pitcher for a pinch hitter and the Rockies went on to a big inning that had started with the Phillies clinging to a one-run lead. Admittedly, only the final ball was intentional after a 3-1 count to start, but Manuel opened the door for the big inning trying to protect that one-run lead. Later in that inning Manuel went to Kyle Lohse to face Kaz Matsui with the bases loaded. Despite only being the top of the forth inning, this was an extremely high leverage situation. According to Tom Tango’s leverage index chart, this ranks as a much higher leverage situation than a one-run lead starting the top of the ninth. This certainly doesn’t seem like a situation that Lohse should be dealing with.
The situation I really want to focus on is the bottom of the eighth inning in game three. The score was tied and Manuel started the inning with Tom Gordon who got the final out the inning before. After Gordon got Matt Holliday, Manuel went to the bullpen for J.C. Romero to get the platoon advantage against lefthander Todd Helton. After getting Helton, Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe both singled to put runners on first and third with two outs. Then, Clint Hurdle put in right handed pinch hitter Jeff Baker for the pitcher’s spot.
Manuel had his closer (and easily the team’s best reliever), Brett Myers, warming in the bullpen, but elected to stay with Romero. Again this leverage situation was significantly higher than if the Phillies had scratched out a run in the top of the ninth and now were going to call on Myers for the save. Not to mention the fact that if the Phillies lost this game their season would be over, and that Myers began the year as a starter, so he could probably be called upon to throw multiple innings. You simply have to get your best reliever in in that situation. By gambling that Romero would get out of the situation, Manuel doomed what faint hope the Phillies had at that point.
In the end, I suspect the Phillies 2007 season will be remembered for their late season comeback to catch the Mets and win the NL East, and rightly so. Despite their core of offensive players failing them in the playoffs, the future looks very bright for Phillies. It will be interesting to see what they do with Charlie Manuel in the offseason. Rumors about him getting the ax have been floating around Philadelphia since the end of his first season with the Phillies in 2005. While his missteps during this series won’t be remembered as negatively as Grady Little’s in 2003, Manuel’s moves didn’t help the situation. That said, I am not sure if any manager would have been able to guide the Phillies to a victory in this series given the slump by the offense.
References & Resources
Thanks to Jacob Jackson and the rest of the gang who analyzed the game two situation in a great email exchange.