At long last, America’s pass time is back. Unfortunately, the Phillies opened up the 2018 season in Atlanta with a brutal loss. Gabe Kapler had an eventful first day at the helm to say the least and made decisions that are certainly being questioned. The Phillies were looking to start this season on a high note after an eventful off season but were unable to do so.
Led by first year manager Gabe Kapler and GM Matt Klentak, the Phillies made moves in the off season that signaled they were ready to take their rebuild to the next level. They inked veteran slugger Carlos Santana (no, not that Carlos Santana) to a three year deal and landed former Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta in a move that significantly upgrades the starting rotation.
In addition to free agent signings, there are several players making their opening day debut from the Phillies’ system. Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams (acquired in the Hamels trade, so not technically home grown), and JP Crawford all played last year but were not with the team for opening day. For the first time in a few years, the Opening Day lineup could remain very similar for years to come.
Herrera Out Of The Lineup
One surprising aspect of this game was the absence of Odubel Herrera from the lineup. Odubel has started the last two opening days and has provided largely solid numbers at the plate. Herrera was not happy about the decision, but Kapler said he wants match up based line ups that are subject to change.
As expected, Kapler appears to be taking a more analytical approach to the game.
Nola’s Solid Outing
Aaron Nola started off 2018 on a great note with a very efficient performance against Atlanta. Through 5 1/3 innings, Nola allowed only three hits, one walk, and just one earned run. He also racked up four strike outs.
Surprisingly, Nola was yanked after only 68 pitches after giving up a double to Ender Inciarte midway through the sixth. Nola was producing lots of ground balls and had only allowed one extra base hit when he was yanked. Unfortunately for him, the runner he left on second came home to score off a Freddie Freeman home run courtesy of Hoby Milner.
Overall, this was a very solid outing from Nola. He was extremely efficient and kept his pitch count low while producing lots of weak outs. He looked confident, economical, and established. Excellent news, because Nola needs to be a top of the rotation caliber starter if the Phillies expect to make noise this season.
Hernandez, Hoskins Give Phillies a 5-0 Lead Early
Hernandez lead off the game with a single but was thrown out at second following a ground out by Santana. Santana soon advanced to second on a wild pitch from Julio Teheran followed by a swinging strike out from Nick Williams. With two men out and a runner on second, Rhys Hoskins stepped in for his first AB of 2018. Picking up right where he left off in 2017, Hoskins smacked the first pitch he saw to right field for an RBI double that scored Santana. This was the start of what would be a great day for Hoskins.
The next few innings proved to be a pitcher’s duel with both Nola and Teheran settling in. That all changed in the sixth inning, however, when the Phillies scored four more runs and broke the game wide open. Midway through the sixth, the offensive outburst got started with a home run to right field from Cesar Hernandez. This marks the second straight Opening Day where Cesar has homered.
After allowing the home run to Hernandez, Teheran recorded the next two outs only to hit Hoskins with a pitch followed by a walk to Altherr. Teheran was then yanked in favor of Rex Brothers who walked JP Crawford to load the bases. With the bases juiced, Brothers again allowed a walk to Franco which allowed a run to score. Andrew Knapp then singled to right field, scoring both Crawford and Altherr to give the Phillies a 5-0 lead headed into the bottom of the sixth. Hoskins would finish the day going 2 for 3 with two doubles, an RBI, a run scored, and a stolen base.
Bullpen Blows The Lead, Braves Walk Off
Following Gabe Kapler’s questionable call to remove Nola from the game, the bullpen went on to allow five runs to score. Hoby Milner allowed a two run homer to Freddie Freeman in the sixth and Adam Morgan allowed a solo home run to Ozzie Albies in the eighth. After walking Freeman, Morgan was pulled in favor of Edubray Ramos. A brutal throwing error from Andrew Knapp then allowed Freeman to score while Kurt Suzuki moved up to third. Former Phillie Peter Bourjos came in to run for Suzuki who immediately came home to score off a Preston Tucker single.
With the Phillies unable to score in the top half of the ninth, the game went to the bottom of the ninth tied at 5-5. After walking Freeman, Hector Neris allowed a three run, walk-off home run to Nick Markakis to end the game.
A Very Disappointing Result
The first game of 2018 ended in heartache for the Phillies. There were plenty of encouraging signs such as a solid outing from Nola, a solid day at the plate for Hoskins and lots of walks, but Gabe Kapler made some moves that are bound to be questioned. Pulling Aaron Nola after 68 pitches while he was dominating was a questionable move to say the least. Yes, Nola isn’t in mid-season form, but taking him out of the game so early doesn’t seem to make much sense.
The fact that Edubray Ramos pitched the eighth inning instead of Pat Neshek was also a strange decision. Neshek is a veteran setup man who was absolutely dominant last year. Seeing Ramos over him in such a tight situation was certainly odd, especially considering the fact that Klentak went out and brought him back.
Needless to say, this was a very disappointing Opening Day despite some very positive signs. The Phillies will be back on the field tomorrow at 7:35 PM with Nick Pivetta on the mound.