The Giants’ reenactment of the 2010 playoffs continues as the Giants move to Philadelphia to take on another team performing above their preseason projections. The Phillies got off to a shaky start this year, going 1-4. That stretch of five games is only noteworthy since it was the start of the season and Gabe Kapler’s analytically oriented managerial strategies came under scrutiny, with Phillies fans calmly and rationally calling for Kapler to be fired.
Since those first five games, the Phillies are 17-10 and the demands for Kapler’s head have subsided. Weird how it works like that.
There were two major strategies Kapler considered implementing this year. One was to switch corner outfields depending on the handedness of the batter. This was supposed to diminish the number of times a ball would be hit to former Giants farmhand, Tommy Joseph. The Phillies experimented with it in Spring Training, but they haven’t done so in the regular season yet.
The other strategy was taking his starters out after the first two times through the order. So far, the Phillies are tied for 15th in the majors in innings pitched against the third time through the order, so Kapler hasn’t stayed exactly true to that strategy.
Part of that is their starting pitching has been better than anticipated, even the third time through the order. Phillies pitchers have a 2.77 ERA facing the order a third time through. Only three other teams are below 4.00. Something that should be a problem, hasn’t been a problem for the Phillies. Not only that, it backfired on Opening Day, when Kapler took Aaron Nola out and the bullpen blew the game.
This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. It’s kind of like saying teams shouldn’t shift against Brandon Belt because, every once in a while, he’s going to hit a grounder to third.
Another part Kapler has moved away from this strategy, and this is speculation, is I sure wouldn’t want to tell Jake Arrieta he has to come out in the fifth inning because he’s about to face Gregor Blanco a third time. Not just because I think Arrieta would call me a nerd, roll me into a ball, and dunk me into a trash can, but because he’s still pretty good even with diminished velocity.
The Giants though, will miss Arrieta in this four-game series. The Giants have been fortunate to miss Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta in four-game series this year. Though in this case, they still have to face Aaron Nola who has been better than both former Cy Young winners. Nola’s 2.17 ERA is 7th among qualified NL pitchers despite having just a 6.9* K/9.
Like the Braves, the Phillies are back to being annoying, but with the way the Giants have been playing the past few weeks, they should be able to shut them up. That is, unless Brandon Crawford and Alen Hanson stop hitting. But why would that happen?
Pitcher to Watch: Jeff Samardzija will make his fourth start Monday night. Samardzija hasn’t quite looked like himself since coming back from the DL. His walk rate is up and his velocity is down. Pitching in child-sized Citizens Bank Park will be a test, too as Samardzija has always induced a lot of flyballs. With Madison Bumgarner still out and Johnny Cueto out another 6-8 weeks, the Giants will need Samardzija to figure things out.
Hitter to Watch: With Joe Panik out until mid-June at least, the Giants have an obvious hole at second base. Or at least they would if Alen Hanson didn’t come up and start raking. Since making his San Francisco debut on April 28, Hanson is hitting .321/.345/.643. with two homers and three doubles. He’s at a .318 BABIP which is high, but not outrageously so. Here’s hoping he continues his hot streak and doesn’t fall off a cliff. He’s just 25, so it’s not crazy to think he’s made a breakthrough.
Prediction: It’s hard to sweep a four-game series. While I think the Giants are playing well enough to take three out of four, I’m going to say they’ll go for a split and be pleasantly surprised when they win more.