What a difference a month makes. On March 29 Gabe Kapler made his Major League Baseball managerial debut, and it was memorable. The Braves beat the Phillies 8-5 after trailing the visitors 5-0 in the sixth. The turning point; Kapler pulled starting pitcher Aaron Nola after only 68 pitches thrown. Some further questionable decisions by the manager over the next four games left the Phillies with a 1-4 record heading into their home opener.
The Philadelphia fan base let Kapler know precisely how they felt about his performance in the first two series, greeting him at Citizen’s Bank Park with resounding boos.
“Given the way the first few days had played out I was not surprised that was the reaction,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “I was disappointed for him. I know Gabe would not show any emotion, but I was disappointed because this was his first chance to manage a game in the home stadium, and he had waited a long time for that opportunity.
“As Gabe said, the most important thing is for the focus to be on our players because we have a lot of really good ones. Some of them are going to be hot, and we’ll write good stories about that. When some of them struggle, we are going to talk about that. But that is what the focus of the team should be, and that’s what it is right now.”
The Phillies are now 15-8. They won nine of their first ten games at home, a first since 1964. Offensively they have the third most strikeouts in the league, but they are fourth in walks. Because of those walks, when they have hit the ball, they often have runners in scoring position. Couple that with a team ERA of 3.13 and one understands the optimism that currently runs through the clubhouse.
“Our pitching has been amazing,” rookie Scott Kingery said. “You add a guy like (Jake) Arrieta who has dominated. We have Nola, Vince (Velasquez), (Nick) Pivetta, (Ben) Lively; they all have been throwing the ball very well. That is super helpful, especially for the position players because they are holding teams to two, three runs a game. That is all we need to get because our lineup is very capable of that. Any time you have pitchers doing what they are it is easy to get a win.”
Kingery also points to a group of young players who together learned winning ways coming up through the Phillies farm system.
“There is a lot of team chemistry because a lot of the guys on this team right now came up playing together in the minor leagues and we were able to win,” he said. “Right now we are trying to go out there, have fun, and the best thing about this team is we are not giving up at all. No matter how many runs we are down, or what inning it is we are always trying to find a way to scratch a win out.”
Kapler credits Phillies director of player development, Joe Jordan for killing two birds with one stone.
“I think the culture that Joe Jordan has created at the minor league level here is as good as any in sports,” Kapler said. “They emphasize development and winning, and winning as a part of development. Some organizations value the player development over the winning environment, but the Phillies look at it as the two things working in harmony.”
Kapler’s start as an MLB manager may have been rocky, but he and his team have settled into winning ways ever since.