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Gabe Kapler’s bullpen management has been an absolute train wreck

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So far, so bad for Gabe Kapler’s first season as a big league manager. Yes, the Phillies have dropped two of three, but that’s not a big deal. It’s early. What’s been terrible is the way he has managed his bullpen.

We talked already about how pitching-change happy he was in a game the Phillies seemingly had in hand on Opening Day. In game two of the series on Friday Kapler was getting his dugout-to-mound workouts in as well, using eight relievers to cover the final seven innings in the Phillies’ 11-inning win. Excessive? Yeah, but a win’s a win, right?

Yesterday, though, Kapler took things to a new level.

The minor issue is that, once again, Kapler went through bullpen arms like Kleenex, trotting out five more relievers in the nine inning blowout. Part of that can be excused by the fact that Phillies starter Vince Velasquez got his butt lit up, lasting only two and two-thirds. The major issue is what went down in the third inning when Kapler wanted to replace him.

Kapler walked out of the dugout and signaled for reliever Hoby Milner. The problem: Milner wasn’t warmed up yet. Indeed, he only took off his warmup jacket and started throwing the moment Kapler left the dugout. Milner nonetheless worked to get some warmup pitches in down there while Kapler stalled on the mound.

In today’s pace-of-play crazy game there’s a time limit for pitching changes, however — two-minutes and five seconds in locally televised games for the pitcher to complete his warmup tosses on the mound. It took Milner one minute and twenty seconds just to get to the mound after Kapler signaled for him and it was two minutes and forty-five seconds until he was done with his truncated on-the-mound warmup session.

About that warmup session: the umpires gave Milner five pitches instead of the standard eight. Braves manager Brian Snitker came out and beefed about him even getting the five due to the delay, but the umpires — wisely, I think — allowed him to because they did not want Milner getting hurt by throwing in game action while cold. Snitker beefed enough to get ejected. Later crew chief Jerry Layne strongly implied that he sympathized with Snitker — and that the Phillies bore the responsibility for the delay — but that he felt that he had to protect the pitcher. Good call.

Anyway, Milner pitched, didn’t do too well, and the game continued to be a laugher. So much of a laugher that, in the end, Kapler had to use outfielder Pedro Florimon to pitch the eighth inning. Florimon allowed two runs on a Lane Adams homer but otherwise ended the Braves’ day on offense. There were no issues with him warming up.

So, who was to blame for this? Gabe Kapler, of course, just as Jerry Layne implied. And he took responsibility, though he didn’t explicitly say, for example, that he forgot to have Milner warm up or didn’t realize he wasn’t warming up. He called it a “miscommunication.” In all, it was more of a “the buck stops here” taking of responsibility:

I take full responsibility . . . It’s a pretty good indication that I need to do a better job, and I will. I will continue to strive for excellence in that regard. Miscommunications are just simply unacceptable and no matter where they occur in our clubhouse or in our dugout or on our field, they are always my responsibility.”

That’s well and good, but the fact is that Kapler used 21 pitchers across 28 innings in the series. When asked, in general, about his bullpen usage, he said that he’s embarked on a usage of the bullpen designed “to keep them safe and strong.” He said “you can go back and look at the innings and how many pitches our guys have thrown and you’ll find we have kept them safe and strong.” Are you happy with that explanation, Phillies fans?

Kapler will get the benefit of the doubt on this stuff if, as the season wears on, his bullpen does, in fact, stay fresh and does contribute to a successful Phillies season. If the pitchers down there don’t get fried and if they don’t start grumbling about overwork or not knowing their role, as so often happens with bullpens when deployed unconventionally.

For now, though, it looks like managing for the sake of managing, with the exception of doing the one thing a manager has to do in the form of making sure your pitcher is ready to go into the game.

 

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.