Ron Costello

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The cherry blossoms have peaked along the banks of the Tidal Basin in our nation's capital, signifying the start of the baseball season. That's the baseball season played in weather baseball should be played in, not the frigid conditions of April where temperatures favored an Iditarod race.

The Phillies organization — and the Faithful that watch pitch after pitch, game after game — has seen enough to determine which way to go with this team.

Take the rotation, for example. The first two spots seem solid: Nola and Arietta — unless Arietta lives up to the rumors that say the speed of his fastball has dropped to the equivalency of the average SUV speed on the Capital Beltway.

If it has — Lord have mercy on us all.

Nola is 4-1 and probably should be 5-0 if his rookie manager Gabe "watch how I change baseball" Kapler, in the season's opener, didn't foolishly pull him in the sixth up five runs. We know Kapler is doing OJT and if he flunks the final exam Dusty Wathan will take over faster than you can say "he should have had the job in the first place."

Veteran reliever Pat Neshek told USA Today that, "There's anger in the (Phillies) clubhouse; nobody knew what's going on, and a lot of guys were questioning him, like, is this how it's going to be all year?"

Quote, unquote.

And then there's outfielder Nick Williams. Last season Mr. Williams hit .288 and 12 home runs after his call-up at the end of June. Not bad for a rook. Lots of promise in his numbers. But this year Williams has fallen off his horse. In 25 games he's hitting .200 with one home run.

An April slump? Don't think so. Look, here's the thing. Williams has 55 at-bats; Rhys Hoskins has 102; Scott Kingery, 96 — and would have more, but he got hit with a pitch. Odúbel Herrera has 112, as does César Hernández; Carlos Santana, 110.

Maybe you think, Oh come on, what does that matter? But it's huge. Baseball is like golf; you have to play to stay sharp. Ballplayers need to play consistently and sitting out Williams for whatever reasons — analytics, pitching match-ups, weather forecasts — is killing him. Williams spoke out to an Inquirer reporter — surprising for a player of Mr. Williams's minute MLB experience to do. If it continues — keeping him out of the lineup — it could damage Mr. Williams' baseball career.

The other players see what's happening to Williams and they begin to think. You can't have ballplayers thinking. Like Yogi said, "You can't think and hit." So true.

It could upset the balance of the Phillies' clubhouse — if it hasn't already — and send the team into a losing spiral. Once a manager loses the respect of his players, and they start talking behind his back, losing usually follows and you know what follows after that.

They've never fired the team.

This weekend the Phillies are a mere cannon shot from the banks of the Potomac – where General George B. McClellan formed and trained a sizeable army named after the river — facing a Nationals team that is coming out of hibernation. A city where Nick Williams and other position players need to play and not be managed by a computer.

Play consistently or unravel.

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