Saturday, September 27, 2014

Epic Collapse: The Final Days--Bunning and Short in Desperation Starts

Their once formidable lead reduced to a half-game on September 27 with six games left to go, now was truly desperation time for manager Gene Mauch and his Phillies. With Dennis Bennett suffering from a sore shoulder, and Ray Culp out of action, and Art Mahaffey having just pitched, and not wanting to trust just-turned-19 year old rookie Rick Wise in what was now a very heated pennant race, Mauch started Jim Bunning twice and Chris Short once more on only two days of rest--with predictable losing results.

The Final Days: Bunning and Short in Desperation Starts

Despite having pitched poorly and losing the first of the four-game series with Milwaukee, Jim Bunning volunteered to start the final game of that series on September 27. This was his second start on short rest, but remember, the first was on September 16 against Houston when Philadelphia was not in a pennant-race dogfight and there was no obvious reason to do so. Now there was very good reason, but the script followed an arc similar to his start in Houston. Bunning departed in the fourth inning and the Phillies, 14-8 losers, had now lost seven straight and were down one game in the standings to Cincinnati and just barely ahead--by half-a-game--of the third-place Cardinals of St. Louis--their next destination.

The unintended consequence of his having started both Short and Bunning out of turn on two days of rest against the Braves was that Mauch was now forced to use his two best pitchers once again on short rest against the Cardinals--who were now a team they (the Phillies) had to beat to keep from falling behind yet another suddenly emergent pennant contender, let alone keep pace with the Reds, against whom they would play their final two games of the season. Had they pitched in turn in the rotation, Short and Bunning would have been available to pitch on their normal three-days rest in the season series that now mattered the most--against the Cardinals with the pennant at stake.

Both did start on short rest--each making three starts in the space of seven days--and both lost. As had become commonplace during their horrendous slide, the Phillies squandered numerous scoring opportunities, having great difficulty with runners in scoring position. By the time they left St. Louis, having been swept in the three-game series, the Phillies had lost 10 straight and were now in third place, 2-1/2 games behind, on life support with only two games left for them to play, in Cincinnati, who they trailed by two games. Both the Reds and Cardinals had three games remaining.

Now it was they--the Philadelphia Phillies--who needed a perfect storm in their favor.

1 comment:

  1. Several thoughts...
    1. Mauch's failure to pay attention to how his individual pitchers handled overuse. Bunning was horrendous in his 3 starts on short rest, starting with Houston on 9/16 (4.1 IP, 6 ER). Mauch repeated this error with Bunning not once but twice. Short on the other hand pitched well enough on two days rest. He also started once in September on 2 days rest. Unlike Bunning, he did well (9/2/64 against Houston, 9 IP CG, 1 ER). In the other two starts on 2 days rest, he gave up only 5 ER in 13 innings. Short had been overused all season with no ill effects. Mauch had used him in relief on 7 occasions between starts after he joined the starting rotation, yet it didn't markedly affect his performance. Mauch ignored these trends.
    Mauch made the same mistake (not paying attention to how his pitchers responded) with Bennett. Although mindful of Bennett's shoulder problems, Mauch pitched him in relief between starts 9 times that season. In these appearances, his ERA was 6.06. In starts after relief appearances his ERA was 4.88. In all other games his ERA was 3.19. Not only was he ineffective on these occasions, the overuse may well have contributed to his arm problems in August and September.
    Bobby Shantz- Mauch's starting rotation predicament in September was caused by Bennett and Culp's arm troubles (although Culp reportedly maintained that he in fact could have pitched). Bobby Shantz had been a starter earlier in his career, and on two occasions in September (9/7 and 9/17) he pitched 7 and 7.2 innings, giving up only one run in the two appearances combined, essentially 2 quality starts to say the least. Should Mauch have noticed this and tried Shantz instead of Bunning and Short on two days rest? Admittedly he was the only left handed reliever (probably the reason why Short and Bennett were used so much in relief) but Roebuck and Baldschun had been effective all season, before Shants was acquired in August.
    Notwithstanding all of this, IMO the main reason the Phillies lost in 64 was Frank Thomas' broken hand. The team was already fading in July as the NL figured out that they were overbalanced with left handed batting and pitched lefties. He changed all of that; in his 32 games beginning 8/7 they were 21-11 (as opposed to 16-14 in July) and built the huge lead. When he was injured on 9/8 they stopped hitting (.295 in August, .237 in September). Witnessing all of this at the time, I was surprised, but not totally shocked, that they blew the pennant. Mauch himself said they would have won had he not been injured.
    A final factor in the collapse was terrible luck. on 9/21 the Phillies had the 6 1/2 game lead over the Reds. From 9/21-9/28 the Phillies went 0-7. During the same period the Reds amazingly went 8-0. When the Reds finally started losing the following week, the Cardinals took over. Through 8/30 the Phillies were 0-10, The Cardinals were 8-1.