"You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going because you might not get there." – Yogi Berra
NEW YORK – The Phillies headed home early Wednesday evening after a 97-minute rain delay and a 4-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field. They boarded a bus back to Philadelphia as a 1-4 baseball team that saw their freshly implemented reliability on analytics blow up on them more than once like a trick cigar.
Gabe Kapler's dudes, as he is apt to call his players, will be introduced to the Philadelphia fans before Thursday afternoon's home opener at Citizens Bank Park and the young manager hopes his young team will be embraced by the sellout crowd. He does not care, he said, how he is received after a shaky start to his managerial career. At the very least, it should make for some fascinating early afternoon theater along the first-base line in South Philadelphia.
"Look, my focus is on getting our team ready to play our first home series," Kapler said. "This is not about me. This is about our players. Our players are very, very exciting. Our club is a good, deep interesting club and what I'm excited for is the fans to get to see those guys play. I'm excited about going back to Philadelphia. I think all of our players are as well. I think the fans can be excited for the young product that we're going to put on the field and some hitters who frankly have been really grinding through at-bats."
By grinding, he meant that they are seeing a lot of pitches even if the results have been less than enthralling.
"I don't know if anybody would have expected us to knock [Noah] Syndergaard out the way we did," Kapler said after Wednesday's loss allowed the Mets to complete a sweep of the weather-shortened series. "I think we did that based on our approach to our offense like we've been doing on this road trip, which is by seeing a lot of pitches. I think our fans are going to be excited to see that."
Perhaps it was an accomplishment that the Phillies chased the hard-throwing Syndergaard after just four innings and 92 pitches, but it became a shallow achievement when they managed just one bloop single and did not score against the four Mets relievers that followed. In their two losses to the Mets, the Phillies had a total of eight hits, struck out 26 times and went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Their overall team batting average is .183 after five games. It is .103 (4 for 39) with runners in scoring position.
Not to worry, Kapler insisted. He even found a silver lining in all those swings and misses.
"We want to cut down on strikeouts," he said. "There are benefits to strikeouts as well. It means you're working deeper, longer counts. But at the end of those counts, you want to end up with some balls in the gap and over the fence. Certainly we expect that to happen over time."
Everything, according to Kapler, will get better in time. Strategically, the road trip was a disaster for the manager, starting with his very first significant decision to remove Aaron Nola in the season opener down in Atlanta. It continued Wednesday when Amed Rosario delivered a two-out, two-run triple over Nick Williams' head to break a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Williams could not have been shallower if he had been standing in a baby pool, but it was where Chris Young, the Phillies' assistant pitching coach in charge of outfield positioning, wanted the rightfielder.
"Start by saying we thought we had a really good matchup," Kapler said. "We felt like [Drew Hutchison] versus [Wilmer] Flores and Rosario that [Hutchison's] slider was going to play really well."
Let's remember that Hutchison was a non-roster invitee who was not going to make the team until a late spring-training injury to Mark Leiter Jr. And let's remember that Hutchison did not pitch in the big leagues last season.
Hutchison walked Flores before giving up the triple on a poorly placed slider.
"We were anticipating weaker contact," Kapler said. "Whenever you anticipate weaker contact you think about the ball falling in front of you and not going over your head like it did. We were positioned effectively from my perspective."
From the perspective of where the ball landed, not so much.
Kapler insisted, however, that in the long run the decision that went so wrong Wednesday will be the right one.
"There are going to be a number of times when the ball is hit right at our guy in right field and there are also going to be a number of times when he takes away a ball in front of him that we wouldn't have caught otherwise," Kapler said. "Some of these moves have not worked out in the short term. In the long term, we are confident they will work out."