I have always had great respect for Mitchel Lichtman, known more widely as MGL, sabermetrician extraordinairre. He’s a really smart guy who is able to cut through a lot of baloney when it comes to baseball stats. Most of my experience with his work has been me looking blankly at what he says or writes, failing to comprehend it and then, some time later, be it ten minutes or two years, saying “wow, that was pretty damn insightful.”
But I have to be honest and also admit that, if any sabermetrician comes close to fitting the stereotype that non-stats people throw at them, it’s Lichtman. He has a fierce dedication and seriousness to his craft which, intended or not, comes off as humorless and lacking in larger perspective. Specifically, the perspective that baseball is, you know, kind of fun and cool sometimes, even if the fun and cool stuff causes us to lose sight of the nuts and bolts of it from time to time.
Maybe his best ever example of this came in a series of tweets last night:
I don’t think anyone reasonably thinks that Tim Lincecum is the same pitcher today that he was three or four years ago. And I don’t think appreciating his no-hitter yesterday — or even his messy no-hitter last year — requires one to make a judgment about his overall quality. Yes, people will go overboard when stuff like that happens, but c’mon.
Put differently: lighten up, Francis. Maybe pick a different battle? That game was as fun as hell to watch and seeing an outstanding performance from someone who has lost the thread in his game in many ways is way, way more uplifting and inspiring than seeing someone at the top of their game remain at the top.
Put differently again: Mitchel, let’s go get a beer sometime and just enjoy a ballgame on a shallow, entertainment-first level. We can really do that once in awhile.
The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.
In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.
On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.
Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.