May 11, 2017
After their best 20-game start since the 2011 season when they won a franchise-best 102 games, the Phillies have lost 10 of their last 12.
They took on what are arguably the top three teams in the league during that run and came away looking a lot like a rebuilding team that took on the league’s top three teams. They welcomed the very average-looking Seattle Mariners to Citizens Bank Park and couldn’t hang with them either, though, as a turbulent bullpen continued to find new ways to blow up games.
And so, on Thursday, the second day off in the fifth week of the regular season, a day after the most veteran of that aforementioned relief corps had pointed criticism for the coaching staff, and on the same day the organization celebrates its biggest charitable endeavor with the annual #StrikeOutALS Phillies Phestival, the media relations staff issued a news item at 9 a.m. on the dot: manager Pete Mackanin had been signed to a new two-year contract that takes him through the 2018 season and includes an option for 2019, too.
OK. Breathe. You will be fine, I promise.
Nearly six weeks into the season, the Phillies are not playing great baseball. Their latest loss on Wednesday afternoon moved them to a season-worst six games under .500. The Phils are in third place in the National League East, but only because, somehow, the brand of baseball being played in Miami and Atlanta has been worse than that in Philadelphia.
This – ‘this’ being the Phillies’ current record and losing skid – is not the fault of the manager.
*Ducks* Please stop throwing things. You can’t hit me through your laptop or phone anyway. Maybe back off on the caffeine for the next few hours or so, because…
The Phillies brass’ decision to show faith in Pete Mackanin was the right thing to do, regardless of the timing. Really, does it matter at all that this happened today, and not, say, seven weeks ago in March, or three months down the road in August? What’s the difference?
It was the right thing to do because, when you are able to set aside your instant gratification-pro football mentality and see through your emotions and to the logic, you’ll appreciate the big picture that is the time and place of where the Phillies are as an organization in May of 2017.
Former team president Pat Gillick and current team president Andy MacPhail called for patience when the Phillies set forth on their rebuilding venture following the 2014 season and reminded folks at every turn that the baseball teams that stayed the course on their own rebuilds in recent history – and didn’t veer from the path – were all ultimately rewarded. The Astros, the Cubs, the Royals, etc.
But we’re tired of the losing! It’s been six years since the Phillies had a winning record! Every team in Philly is a loser and every front office keeps talking about patience and the future and their processes!
What the other three teams are doing/have done is irrelevant.
The Sixers and Flyers are on their own rebuilds, too, but that shouldn’t affect your thinking when it comes to the Phillies. It’s not the Phillie Phanatic’s fault that the Eagles haven’t won a championship since your dad was in grade school.
Perhaps the Phillies’ rebuild, if anything, should be given a bit more leeway since they are the only team amongst this group that has produced a championship in the last 34 years. But, again, what the other teams are doing/have done shouldn't and doesn't have anything to do with where the Phillies are in May of 2017.
But the Phillies are playing bad baseball, you said it yourself, so how does rewarding the manager of the Phillies make any sense??!?
Because a lot of what veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit said after blowing Wednesday’s game made sense, and not just in relation to the relief corps but to the team as a whole. Benoit was critical of Mackanin and Co. for failing to establish clear roles within the bullpen (even though Benoit himself had a clear role, as an eighth-inning set-up man, in the last three weeks before pitching his way out of it last week in Chicago).
Still, the larger point Benoit was making made sense. Relievers, like every other create-of-habit-and-routine ballplayer in the clubhouse, thrive with stability. If the tone and message are consistent, they are able to perform to their capabilities better.
Does this mean the modern ballplayer has to be coddled? No, not really. But the abrasive, scream-down-their throats managers of the 1970s are a relic in the game for a reason. That style just doesn’t work anymore, even if the similarly-inclined scream-down-your-throat talking heads on the radio insist it’s the only solution.
What are Pete Mackanin’s strengths? Like Charlie Manuel, Joe Maddon, Joe Torre, (and so on and so on), Mackanin is an even-keeled sort who specializes in communication. He keeps a positive vibe in his clubhouse. He can crack the proverbial whip when it needs to be cracked, but he’d rather have his young, still-developing player in a healthy frame of mind so he can be himself, not press, and play to his capabilities and strengths.
He’ll call Maikel Franco into his office a day removed from a particularly rough game and let the kid do the talking (as he did on Wednesday morning). He’ll then tell the player that he’s going to bench him for a game or two to let him clear his head. It’s not a disciplinary move for a scuffling player; it’s a healthy, constructive one where the positive message he’s passing on is done to instill confidence back in the player.
But why didn’t he bench Freddy Galvis last month for not hustling! Mackanin has no control over his clubhouse!
Benching Galvis, one of the most influential veteran leaders in the clubhouse, would have probably had the exact opposite effect than the one many fans desired, really. Instead of sending a stern message to the players, it very well could have divided the clubhouse and brought an unhealthy animosity into the room less than a month into a six-month season. (Different team with different expectations, but go read about the mess that is the New York Mets.)
Plus, Galvis has been applauded for his baseball acumen since forever. If he was a habitual offender, sure. But he isn’t, so Mackanin handled that exactly as a manager should have handled it.
You might not be happy watching the Phillies less than six weeks into a six-month season, and that’s totally understandable. The last two weeks haven’t been particularly fun to watch for anyone, whether you’re a casual fan or diehard fan, or a sportswriter, a general manager, a manager, or a player.
No one wants to watch bad baseball. No one wants to play bad baseball.
But, as the late Dennis Green once said, “they are what we thought they were.” Anyone who expected the Phillies to magically contend this season needs a serious reality check, or, at the very least, a day trip to Allentown, Reading, or Lakewood, N.J., to see the big picture of where the organization is in May of 2017.
This isn’t to say losing should be acceptable.
But the major league roster as it's currently constructed isn’t designed to contend, but to let young players sink or swim in the coming months. The Phils’ brass is trying to weed through their young players on the big league roster and at Triple-A, to see who belongs and who does not as they try to piece together what they hope is the next Phillies' team that can contend for a postseason berth in the next 2-3 years.
Mackanin’s even hand and positive temperament simply make him the right fit at the right time for this team. Perhaps that won't be the case when the major league roster is designed to contend – we really won't know until Mackanin has that kind of roster at his disposal – but it is the case in May of 2017, for the rest of the season, and as the Phils' front office believes following Thursday's news, in 2018, too.
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