Rob Thomson‘s Blindside of Ranger Suarez was the Most Important Piece of Phillies
If you’ve ever watched an episode of the reality game program Survivor you’re probably aware that one of the show’s main elements is a procedure known as the “Blindside Vote.
When it’s time to vote someone off the island it occasionally happens that an unprepared player leaves because they thought the vote would go one way when it actually went the other blindsiding them.
Blindsides differ from one another. Sure, someone ends up leaving the game who didn’t expect it to happen, but frequently there are other players—at least one, but usually two or three—who weren’t informed of the plan. Although they get to continue playing the game, their immediate response to the blindside and the consequences of it leaves them angry and frustrated.
It sometimes works out best. It’s possible that the player or players needed to be firewalled from the strategy in order to make the big move had become too close to the blindsided player who had been voted off. The position of the last surviving contender or competitors is not in jeopardy, nevertheless.
Ranger Suarez was one of those players Saturday night.
Nearly everyone else was aware of the strategy to remove Suarez from the game early and use the bullpen’s powerful pitchers to attack the Braves. However, of all the buttons manager Rob Thomson could have pushed during the Phillies’ 3-0 victory over the potent Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS, leaving Suarez out of the circle of trust was actually the best one.
If you’re going to pull off such a risky plan, it needed Suarez to never see the early hook coming.
Five coaches made the decision at a meeting on Saturday, according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic, and then Rob Thomson methodically went around as the messenger to inform players of the plan. He first informed catcher J.T. Realmuto, then the individual relievers, and finally the position players in the starting lineup.
The most important message was, “Don’t tell Ranger.”
He couldn’t know. There was a chance he wouldn’t have pitched as well as he did if he had known.
Rob Thomson pondered, “Is it best to tell him to empty the tank early if you tell him to empty the tank early?” Or perhaps it would be wiser to simply say, “Hey, go pitch your game. Just pitch your game and don’t worry about it. I therefore made the decision to keep a secret from him and let him pitch without interference.
Suarez threw 3 2/3 innings and allowed just one hit – an infield hit at that. He was lifted for Jeff Hoffman with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Suarez was visibly upset and understandably so. When you are pitching that well and get yanked from the game that quickly, you have to wonder what the hell you have to do to stay in the game.
One thing Rob Thomson excels at is talking to his athletes. After walking Marcel Ozuna to load the bases and then striking out Michael Harris with the ugliest of ugliest sliders to end the inning, Hoffman went over to Suarez with Diego Ettedgui acting as his interpreter to explain to him why he had to pull him at that particular moment and why he hadn’t told him of the plan.
“That was perfect,” Suarez subsequently remarked to reporters via Ettedgui. “The method they used was excellent. It would have forced me out of my preparation or comfort zone (if I knew), as a competitor I know myself to be. You want to pitch well into games as the starter. It would have undoubtedly sapped some of my vitality if I had known the excursion would be brief.
Suarez was also unaware of another aspect of the strategy, which allowed Realmuto to alter the game’s call when Suarez was on the mound. Realmuto informed Gelb that he chose to call pitches for Ranger as a closer rather than a starter because he knew Suarez’s appearance would be brief.
“We weren’t necessarily trying to save his best pitches or set guys up for a second or third at-bat. We just attacked them as we would if the game was on the line.”
The main justification for this strategy was that, despite the Braves’ traditionally strong statistical lineup, high-velocity pitching was a problem for them. With a season-long slugging percentage of.501, they established a new team record. That is pretty amazing. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that they perform even better against pitches that are 96 mph or slower (.512), while they perform worse (.396) against pitches that are 97 mph or faster.
So, the Phillies’ plan was to get 16 outs throwing a lot of that upper echelon heat at the Braves. And they did.
It’s still a big risk since five relievers need to be at their best simultaneously, but the starter was sharp and probably could have extended the game by one or two innings. However, that tank draining from the relievers was also an issue on the off-day Sunday. This is the reason why you saw a pitcher like Seranthony Dominguez throw fastballs on 20 of his 22 pitches, several of which were in the 98-100 mph area.
How many times already have we heard guys like “Bryce Harper” and Nick Castellanos talk about how the whole team is “locked in” right now? So, the internal expectation is that you are going to get the best version of your teammate every time out there this month.
Nevertheless, it’s not a strategy that ought to be carried out frequently. Rob Thomson, though, believed that it was worthwhile to take a chance on an Atlanta club that was perhaps a little rusty after not playing since last Sunday. To his credit, it was successful. The lack of surprise means it’s unlikely to succeed again, but hey, the “Phillies Games” couldn’t be in a better spot. You can return to the NLCS for a second consecutive season if you win two of the following four games, with your two top pitchers starting three of them.
“If it didn’t work out, it would be scrutinized,” Rob Thomson remarked following the game. But given the circumstances, you must decide how to proceed in the best possible way.
The blindside succeeded, and Rob Thomson and the Phillies are now one victory away from winning the competition’s grand prize, just as on Survivor.