Gabe Kapler’s rocky start in Philadelphia is starting to feel like a distant memory.
Kapler was booed at his first home game as Phillies manager earlier this month, and it wasn’t clear how well Philadelphia would take to his willingness to buck conventional wisdom. The team turned things around quickly, however, and although the Phillies lost 10-1 to Atlanta on Sunday, they’re near the top of the NL East with a 16-11 record.
In fact, that division in general looks a lot different than expected as the month draws to a close. The Mets (17-9) are in first place, just ahead of the Phillies and Braves, who are tied for second. Preseason favorite Washington (12-16) lags behind.
In Kapler’s first series as Philadelphia’s manager, the Phillies made a huge mistake when they brought in a reliever who wasn’t ready and needed extra throws before leaving the bullpen. The umpire allowed a delay , saying it was to protect the pitcher’s health. The whole situation made Kapler look unprepared, and he accepted responsibility.
He also turned heads right away by going to his bullpen extensively. On opening day, he pulled starter Aaron Nola after only 68 pitches, with the Phillies up 5-0. They blew the lead and lost the game , and Kapler took some heat.
Kapler’s approach seemed outside the norm, but the idea of pulling starters earlier to prevent them from facing the same hitters too many times has gained favor in analytical circles. Now the Phillies are wrapping up a successful April, and they have the fifth-best ERA in the National League. They finished 10th last season.
Philadelphia is fourth in bullpen ERA. Its starters had an ERA of 4.80 last year. Now it’s 3.91. Last season, Phillies starters faced an average of 23.8 batters per game. This year, they’re at 23.1 – not a drastic decrease, but perhaps a significant one, since the starters’ performance has improved. The average pitch count for a Philadelphia starter has dropped from 92 to 89.
As for Nola, he faced an average of 25.7 hitters last year and 24.5 this year. His average pitch count is down from 99 to 91. His ERA has dropped from 3.54 to 2.58.
After a 1-4 start, the Phillies have won 15 of 22.
Some other developments around the majors:
Miguel Cabrera hit just .249 last season, the worst mark of his career and his first time under .310 since 2008. His drop in production, his age and his massive contract were among the factors making it difficult to trade the slugging first baseman as the Tigers entered their rebuild.
This year Cabrera is showing signs of a rebound at age 35. He’s hitting .326 with three home runs and nine doubles – although he had to leave Sunday’s game at Baltimore with a left biceps spasm.
Albert Pujols is up to 2,996 career hits and should become the 32nd member of the 3,000-hit club in the near future.
Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera had to battle the bushes to make a home run-robbing catch on a drive by Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman on Saturday night.
LINE OF THE WEEK
What a debut for Pittsburgh’s Nick Kingham, who took a perfect game into the seventh inning of a 5-0 win over St. Louis on Sunday. He retired the first 20 batters before Paul DeJong singled. That was the only hit Kingham allowed in seven innings. He struck out nine.
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