It's been a week or so now since longtime Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was fired and interim manager Ryne Sandberg took over the reins. In that time, the Phillies have played seven games, winning four of them.
For those of you counting, those four wins for Sandberg in a week are more than the three wins Manuel had in the first two-plus weeks of August.
After having to withstand the wrath of an incredibly hot Zack Greinke and facing the NL Cy Young Award front-runner Clayton Kershaw in back-to-back shutout losses, the Phillies managed to notch a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday, August 18. Granted, it came on a pair of errors by Hanley Ramirez, but a win's a win, and it gave Sandberg the first one in his major league managerial career.
At the time, that win was viewed as somewhat of an anomaly.
After all, since June 22, the Dodgers had gone 42-8 in their last 50 games following that contest, whereas the Phillies have gone 21-31 dating back to the same date. Most of those 21 wins had come before the All-Star break, for the Phillies have barely managed to win any games since the Midsummer Classic.
Sandberg's second managerial series would come against the Colorado Rockies in the form of a four-game set. Although they boast a road record comparable to that of the Phillies, the Rockies have some potent hitters in their lineup, namely Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer and Wilin Rosario. All three inflicted serious damage over the course of the series, with Rosario belting three home runs and Tulowitzki two for himself.
However, the Rockies' offensive powerhouse wasn't enough to trump the Phillies for once.
For the first time in ages, the Phillies managed to hit and drive in runs. In the first game of the series, the Phillies won 5-4, giving them back-to-back games for the first time since mid-July. Though after Colorado handed them a 5-3 loss on Tuesday, August 20, it looked as though reality had set back in.
Mysteriously enough, the Phillies continued to pile on runs and keep games competitive. Even in times when they didn't in the final two games of the series, such as when Kyle Kendrick blew a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 Rockies lead, the Phillies somehow came back to win the ballgame in walk-off fashion 5-4. They also won thanks to Michael Young's ninth-inning heroics the night before, 4-3.
Although winning's always fun, especially when three games out of four went the Phillies' way, the series held more significance than meets the eye. In fact, the Phillies scored at least three runs in all four contests, marking the first time they had done so since July 6 through July 9. It had been a month and a half since the Phillies stitched together a streak of consistent run production, yet they may not be done just yet.
The Phillies' ability to score runs as of late is remarkable enough, but considering that Manuel had been unable to muster such an offensive push out of the team, it's worth wondering: Is new manager Sandberg the cause of the Phillies' recent offensive uptick?
On paper, it's difficult to tell. However, with further analysis, it looks as though some habits are being broken. On normal nights in the ninth inning with Manuel at the helm, the Phillies lost more often than they won, though Jonathan Papelbon can be blamed for that some of the time.
But in the Phillies' four wins so far under Sandberg, three of them have been of the walk-off variety. That means that roughly a third of the Phillies' 10 walk-off wins this year have come under Sandberg, and that's no small feat.
Additionally, Sandberg has seemingly injected some energy into the players themselves.
Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote about how Sandberg wants to see a different approach from Rollins as long as he's in the leadoff position in his batting order. Essentially, that means that Rollins should focus on hitting balls on the ground and utilizing his speed on the basepaths.
While it may have taken a few games, Rollins has a hit in each of his past two games, including a clutch double in the ninth inning which otherwise might have been a single for the Phillies shortstop. J-Roll was clearly hustling around the bases, and what's more is that he stole third base on the first pitch of the next at-bat. Had he not done so, the dynamic of the inning would have drastically changed, and Rollins might not have scored at all.
Michael Young has also come up in a big way in recent games, and Darin Ruf has seven August home runs now, which is tied for sixth in the majors. Even Carlos Ruiz, whose season seemed to be written off completely, has pieced together a .476 batting average since Sandberg's installment as manager.
Simply put, Philadelphia's position players are starting to make things matter again, albeit at a time when they really don't.
Nevertheless, Sandberg has to be given at least some credit for the Phillies' increase in runs and overall offensive production. Maybe it's just coincidence; then again, maybe not.
Sandberg has already accomplished some things Manuel could not do any longer in his final days as Phillies manager. Most importantly, Sandberg has proved that the baton did need to be passed on for the Phillies to improve, and with continued offensive production, he could be inching closer to having the interim tag removed from his job title after the season.
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