Phillies play the odds with infield shift; fall to Mets

Philadelphia pitcher Ben Lively
The dilemma with playing percentage is that sometimes you can still be wrong and that's what happened to Gabe Kapler and the Phillies on Tuesday night in a 2-0 loss to the Mets at Citi Field.

With Jay Bruce coming to the plate in the sixth inning, Kapler shifted shortstop J.P. Crawford to the right of second base. The move made sense percentage-wise given Bruce's tendency last year to hit ground balls to the right side. With one out and a runner on first, Bruce predictably hit a grounder to the right straight at Crawford on a picture-perfect double-play ball, but with the shift on it left second base uncovered so Crawford's only option was to throw Bruce out at first.

Yoenis Cespedes advanced to second on the play and eventually scored the first run of the contest on Todd Frazier's double to right. Frazier later crossed the plate himself on an RBI-single from Travis d'Arnaud.

Those two runs were the ballgame.

"We have to shift Bruce in that position and that’s the one ball that we’re not going to be able to turn it on," Kapler said. "But over the course of the time, we feel like that’s the best positioning for Jay Bruce."

Infield shifts are nothing new. In fact, The Athletic wrote Tuesday that there were 26,705 infield shifts last season, compared to 6,882 in 2013.

In a sport full of probability, there are very few definites.

"It was a double play almost anywhere on the field, but we have to shift Bruce in that position," Kapler said. "That's the one ball that we're not going to be able to turn it on, but over the course of time we feel like that's the best positioning for Jay Bruce."



Ben Lively lasted 5 1/3 innings for the Phillies, surrendering both runs on six hits. He walked one and struck out five. The outing was the longest by a Phillies starter this season.

"I thought Lively was exceptional," Kapler said. "We knew that he was going to be gritty on a really cold night and showed that tremendous competitiveness, and that's exactly what he did. He came out and gave us length and really sort of did the Lively-style pitching, attacking the strike zone with his fastball, landed that slower curveball around 73-75 mph, kept hitters off balance, stayed off barrels and was everything we hoped he'd be tonight."

Despite Lively's performance, the Phillies offense was anemic finishing the evening with just three hits while leaving seven runners on base. The offense also struck out 11 times.

The Phillies made a valiant effort in the final frame with Aaron Altherr working a leadoff walk and scampering to third on a one-out single by Odubel Herrera, but Mets closer Jeurys Familia escaped the threat.

Did You Notice
Hoby Milner made his fourth appearance of the season for the Phillies. It is the first time that has happened since J.C. Romero in 2008. No Phillies pitcher has appeared in the first five games of the season.

Talking About Percentages
According to Fangraphs Win Expectancy data, the Phillies greatest odds to win Tuesday's contest (63.2%) came in the top of the sixth with the game scoreless as Cesar Hernandez singled and Carlos Santana worked a walk.

What's Next
Aaron Nola faces the Mets in Wednesday's series finale at 1:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field. The game will be shown exclusively on Facebook. Rain and strong winds are in the forecast, so a delayed start is possible.
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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