How much blame does Manuel deserve?
The villagers are irritated – angry, even. If the mob isn’t yet fully formed, it will take shape soon enough should the Phillies continue to disappoint. The torches have already been gathered and the pitchforks have been sharpened. But when the locals finally go off in search of someone – or several someones – to sacrifice, will the prey be worthy or merely convenient?
On Monday afternoon, Charlie Manuel was criticized by radio hosts and callers and at least one area newspaper columnist for some of the decisions he made during Sunday’s doubleheader disaster. The Phillies lost both of those games. The second-guessing began almost immediately after the first defeat – which did not go over all that well with Manuel.
“You guys ought to sit in the dugout with me during the game and give me all the scenarios because I don’t think we know them,” Manuel said sarcastically during an interview with various media members. “We don’t know how to manage a game. Really, you guys ought to sit down there with us or tweet or something and float the information down there to me because I’m not smart enough to get it.”
He was frustrated, and he got more frustrated when he turned on the television later Sunday evening. Manuel said he saw Howard Eskin ripping him on NBC 10. The two got into a little debate in person on Monday, though the exchange was far more professional and restrained than the now (in)famous “stop by my office” dustup.
“I think, with the expectations as high as they are here, you’re always going to have some criticism,” Manuel said. “The criticism is going to be there. Although sometimes I might get upset, as long as someone has their facts straight, it’s fine. I look at stuff, sometimes I get criticized – if I hear it or see it – and they’ve got it about half of it right … but there’s nothing I can do about that. I’ve got to come to the ballpark and manage as good as I possibly can. And I try to put our team and our players in the best position to succeed and get the most out of them every day. If I do that, that’s about all I can do.”
The Phillies beat the Pirates on Monday, 8-3 (see game recap)
. It was Manuel’s 681st victory with the Phillies and his 901st overall as a big league manager – but it was only the Fightins' 35th win this season, which is why Manuel has taken heat and will continue to do so. That is unavoidable, even though Manuel ought to be a lot lower on the list of people to blame than he is at the moment.
As Cliff Lee said the other day, “Everything that can go against us seems like it has.” Lee is a prime example. He remains winless. In his last seven starts, he has blown two three-run leads, one two-run lead and one one-run lead. And in his last two starts, his ERA is 5.00.
The Phillies' pitching was supposed to help them tread water in the NL East until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return from injuries, but too often it has dragged them under. Joe Blanton got the win on Monday, but he has allowed home runs in nine straight games, which is just three shy of tying a Phillies record. Roy Halladay is on the disabled list.
And fifth starter Kyle Kendrick is, well, Kyle Kendrick. Cole Hamels and Vance Worley have thrown well much of the time, which is a relief considering the relievers. The bullpen is full of pitchers who are either inexperienced or questionable or both. Antonio Bastardo, Chad Qualls, Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman – hardly any of them, aside from Jonathan Papelbon, inspire confidence.
The bench is similarly suspect. When you need a pinch hitter and you have to choose between Mike Fontenot and Hector Luna and Michael Martinez and Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton and the like, you might as well choose a blindfold and one last cigarette while you’re at it.
Of course, the problem isn’t so much that those players are on the bench. The problem is that they are too often in the lineup. Because of countless injuries – to Utley and Howard and Freddy Galvis and so many others – many of them have been pressed into daily duty. Except for Jim Thome. He can still hit, but his bad back won’t let him take the field.
There’s more. Shane Victorino is having arguably his worst season as a Phillie. John Mayberry hasn’t exactly turned into the everyday outfielder that the organization hoped he would become after last year’s surprising performance. And, as a unit, the team has gone from one of the best defensive clubs in baseball (the Phils had the second fewest errors last year and were tied for the best fielding percentage) to one of the most mediocre (16th in fielding percentage this year, 17th in errors).
But, yeah, despite all that, despite a roster that handcuffs and handicaps him almost nightly, go ahead and blame Manuel. Managers make such easy scapegoats – especially this one, especially around here.