It took three days, but new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg finally has his first win as a Major League skipper. After being blanked in his first two games since Charlie Manuel's dismissal, the Hall of Fame second baseman eked out a victory on Sunday, thanks in part to an impressive outing from Cole Hamels and some defensive miscues from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
First, the good stuff: Cole Hamels, who has been dominant over the last few months, delivered another great performance on Sunday, when he held the blistering-hot Dodgers to a pair of runs over seven innings of work. He struck out eight and didn't walk a batter, while allowing seven hits. Of his last nine starts, he has allowed two or fewer runs in eight of them. For his effort, Hamels received the all-too familiar no-decision, thanks in part to the offense's in ability to score runs.
As far as the offense goes, it was provided by Darin Ruf, whose fourth inning homer was the first run the Phillies have scored since the 9th inning on Wednesday evening. It was his eighth longball of the season. Two innings later, the Phillies would load the bases against Dodgers starter Ricky Nolasco, and with one out, Cody Asche grounded into a fielders choice that scored Chase Utley from third to tie the game. They would score their third and final run of the game in the ninth inning, when Hanley Ramirez botched an easy bases loaded double play ball off the bat of Michael Young that resulted in Casper Wells scoring the game-winning run from third.
It wasn't a pretty win, but it go the job done – not that it even matters at this point. For Ryne Sandberg, he got into the win column as a big league manager, in a sort of proverbial monkey-off-the-back tossing. And despite the fact that the Phillies will likely have more losses and wins the rest of the way, it's nice to see them get into the win column every now and again during what is sure to be a very tumultuous August and September.
On that note, I want to talk a bit about today's lineup. There have been plenty of words written about how batting orders don't really make too much of a difference in terms of total runs scored over the course of a game and season (for example, the 2007 Phillies would more than likely have lead the National League in offense if the lineup was picked out of a hat every day). That's not to say that you can't make little tweaks here and there to optimize, but by and large, a lineup is going to produce based on the talent, and not necessarily the batting order.
However, very few could argue that Sunday's lineup - which consisted of Michael Martinez leading off – was anything close to ideal. Even when you factor in the overall mediocrity of the entire Phillies roster, the fact that Martinez was Sandberg's best choice to bat first is, for lack of a better word, disconcerting.
Notwithstanding the fact that Sandberg decided to give Jimmy Rollins a day off, there was little reason that Martinez should have taken his spot in the lineup. Just because a guy inhabits Rollins' position on the field doesn't mean he should inhabit his spot in the lineup, especially when said hitter has a career batting average of .189 and a career on-base percentage of .237. He's a lousy hitter, and by inserting him into the leadoff spot, you are potentially giving him more at-bats over the course of the game than anyone else in the lineup. And even though this lineup isn't packed with sluggers, there is literally not one starter on Sunday that is a worse candidate for the leadoff spot than Martinez. Even Casper Wells, who is by no means a good hitter, has a better-than 200 point advantage in OPS for his career.
In a perfect world, you want someone with a good OBP hitting leadoff, which then gives way to the power hitters in the middle of the lineup. Now, the catch is that the Phillies are largely devoid of those types of hitters, but that shouldn't prevent Sandberg from getting creative with the lineup and inserting, say, Chase Utley or Domonic Brown into the leadoff spot. Yes, you want their power in the middle of the lineup, but at least they aren't going to waste an at-bat like Martinez, who was 0-for-4 on the day with a pair of strikeouts and a pair of groundouts.
To be fair, Sandberg doesn't have a lot to work with, and it speaks more to the fact that General Manager Ruben Amaro has given him very little to work with. He's been handed the keys to a broken down car, and he has to somehow get it across the country without it falling apart somewhere in Nebraska. In light of that, we can't be too critical of him, I suppose. But that also doesn't mean that he shouldn't be willing to mix things up a bit and think outside the box over the final month of games. Given the expectations (or lack thereof), now is the perfect time for the newly minted skipper to experiment.