By Connor Thomas
The Philadelphia Phillies are 30 games into the 162 game MLB Season, and sit at a perfectly balanced 15-15. Despite the exactly .500 record, they also sit atop the NL East, as the only team .500 or better in a division that was vaunted as perhaps the best in baseball this offseason. If you had asked Manager Joe Girardi if he would’ve taken that start to the season, he probably would’ve said yes. Unfortunately, he probably would have turned in the wrong answer on his card when he tried to answer. Yesterday in the 7th inning of a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Girardi went out to relieve Aaron Nola, who by the way pitched brilliantly yesterday. He motioned to the bullpen to send in Enyel De Los Santos, who was called up from AAA earlier in the day to fill out the pen. The only issue was that De Los Santos was not on the umpires’ lineup card, which ruled him ineligible to appear in the game. It was a clerical error that ended up leading to a David Hale appearance without a warm up, and Hale has struggled this year even under perfect conditions. By the time the inning ended, the Phillies 6-1 lead had been cut all the way down to 6-5. Fortunately for Girardi and his squad, the 8th and 9th innings were scoreless for both sides, giving the Phillies their first 2 game winning streak in a month. But there has been a theme developing for the Phils, and it is a troubling one.
This team has a focus problem. We saw it in the final game of last series with the Mets, when a ground ball that hit off Rhys Hoskins glove and ended up in shallow right field led to Jonathan Villar scoring all the way from 1st base as the ball was carelessly tossed around the right side of the infield. There have been other instances this year of focus lost late and games, and it certainly doesn’t help that the example from the manager has not been great on this front. Girardi has made multiple inexcusable mental errors already on the young season, starting with an April 9th incident in Atlanta where he forgot the number of mound visits already taken and accidentally removed starter Zack Wheeler mid at bat. He has made questionable decisions with the bullpen throughout the season as well, leading up to the latest issue of bringing in an unavailable pitcher last night.
Teams who are not supremely talented need to be able to maintain hyper focus over the course of a 162 game season in order to compete in the long run with the teams whose talents will allow them to rise to the top over time. This will be paramount for the Phillies if they want to continue to be at the top of a still stacked NL East. If it weren’t for some mental errors, their lead in the division could certainly be larger, and it doesn’t get any easier as the dog days of summer approach. The doldrums of 162 can make even the most focused Major Leaguer more prone to the mental lapse. The Phillies simply aren’t good enough to afford that. And Joe Girardi needs to step up his focus as a message to the team that simple mental errors are inexcusable. If these mistakes become the example for the ball club, it could be the difference between a Red October, or a 10th straight season without playoff baseball in Philadelphia.