Examining Manuel: Opening weekend

Posted by Mike Frohwirth

After only three games, it is difficult to come to any meaningful conclusions, as we've considered already. The sample size is just too small. However, Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel did make several decisions that are worthy of some examination. Given the off day on Monday, it is reasonable to assume that Manuel had the entire active roster at his disposal, throughout Opening Weekend.

On Sunday, Michael Martinez played CF, and batted in the leadoff spot.

With starting CF Shane Victorino unavailable, Manuel opted to give Martinez his first MLB start. Presumably, Martinez brings more to the team defensively, than alternate options John Mayberry, Jr., Ross Gload, and Pete Orr. However, there is a large dropoff offensively, between Martinez and the other reserves.

Getting Martinez' first MLB start out of the way early, at home, against mediocre starter Bud Norris and the less-than-mediocre Houston Astros, may be defensible. Batting Martinez in the leadoff spot is not defensible.

In our lineup construction analysis, we found the #1, #2, and #4 spots in the lineup to be the most important. Martinez was the worst-hitting non-pitcher in the starting lineup. Batting him first not only maximized his number of plate appearances, but also positioned the weak-hitting Valdez-Oswalt-Martinez trio to immediately precede the middle of the Phillies' order. Not to mention that, if #9 hitter Roy Oswalt was called upon to sacrifice bunt, he would be moving runners into scoring position for the lineup's 2nd weakest hitter. Apparently, Manuel believed that "lineup continuity" was important in some way, when he opted not to bat Martinez at the bottom of the order.

Shane Victorino was called upon to pinch-hit in the sixth inning of Sunday's game, with the Phillies leading, 4-2. The Phillies scored twice, taking a 6-2 lead. Victorino finished the game, in CF.

Victorino wasn't believed to be available, as he was injured in Saturday's game. Manuel chose a very opportune time to use Victorino as a pinch-hitter, and the move paid off. But why leave Victorino in for the final three innings? The game was well-in-hand, so why not give Victorino the rest of the day off?

Despite easy victories in the final two games of the Astros' series, Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins, and Placido Polanco played every inning.

It is imperative that the Phillies keep veterans Ibanez, Rollins, and Polanco healthy, as they are much more productive than their replacement options. On the bench, they are much less susceptible to injury. With the game under control, why not let the reserves defend the four- or five-run lead, for the final innings? The incremental rest will help the vets, and the playing time will help the reserves stay fresh.

LHP Antonio Bastardo did not appear in the series.

Back in the early days of The Phillies Dynasty, Charlie Manuel had a reverse-split southpaw, by the name of Jack Taschner. Manuel often seemed to forget about Taschner's existence, and the lefty would go extended periods between appearances. Hopefully, Bastardo won't fall victim to "The Taschner Effect."

There were many opportunities this past weekend, in which Bastardo could have been employed as a LOOGY. Bastardo would have been a better option than Herndon on Opening Day, when David Herndon allowed a huge triple to left-handed hitting Michael Bourn. Herndon also pitched two innings in the Sunday matinee, protecting a 7-2 lead. Letting Bastardo handle one of those two innings would have been ideal.

Considering that the strong starting rotation is likely to go deep into games, as well as the ability of the Madson/Contreras duo at the end of games, why not use both J.C. Romero and Antonio Bastardo, in LOOGY roles?

In the 9th inning of the Sunday game, and Kyle Kendrick protecting a 7-3 lead, closer Jose Contreras began warming up in the bullpen.

Fortunately, Contreras did not enter the game. With a sizeable difference in ability, between the Madson/Contreras Duo and the other bullpen options, Manuel needs to monitor the Duo's workload carefully. There were frequent occasions last season, when Manuel used Madson or Lidge, despite the Phillies having a big lead. As Manuel currently has less bullpen depth to work with, at least until a healthy Lidge returns, he needs to save the Duo for the close games.

The Phillies did well this weekend, sweeping all three games from Houston. Manuel made more good moves, than bad. But the Phillies will have a smaller margin for error, when they face stronger opponents (Braves, Brewers) in the near future. Manuel needs to make certain he keeps the regulars healthy, the reserves fresh, and that he maximizes the effects of the Phils' pitching superiority.

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