With two outs, runners on first and second, and Lucas Duda coming to the plate last night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a pitching change to protect a 3-1 lead. Philadelphia's starting pitcher, David Buchanan, had just struck out Yoenis Cespedes and was one out away from becoming the game's pitcher of record. As Adam Loewen jogged in from the bullpen, SNY broadcasters Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez strongly voiced their displeasure with Mackanin.
"I don't like this move at all...if you're working on your young pitchers who are going to help you next year, how do you build their confidence? By taking them out against a guy in a meaningless game?"
"We're going to end up in a time, where guys—if they don't feel right—are not going to take the mound."
"The next time Buchanan is out there, and it's 4 2/3, is he going to look in the dugout and see if he's being taken out? What a defeatist way to think of the game."
This view from the booth glosses over pragmatic reasoning for the pitching change—at 26 years old, with atrocious peripherals, Buchanan is hardly a young pitcher to build 2016 around—in the name of creating a narrative that Mackanin bypassed an opportunity to build a prospect's character. The booth's perspective is also fueled by an unsubtle disdain for non-competitive teams playing to win. Darling is quick to point out the "meaningless" nature of the game, also punctuating a point with "...especially when you have a team that's taking gas all year, and you're struggling."
The playoff-bound Mets facing lowly opposition such as the Reds and Phillies in September creates an awkward dynamic: Managers like Mackanin are expected to straddle the line between meaningful regular season baseball and the tryout system found in spring training games. Even a move as mundane as creating a lefty-on-lefty matchup in a high-leverage situation will be greeted with criticism of short-term thinking. Likewise, when Reds manager Bryan Price removed struggling starter Keyvius Sampson this past Sunday, Keith Hernandez was quick to point out the futility of the move. "Oh, why don't you let him finish the game, who cares."
What makes these grumblings all the more puzzling is the booth's willingness to laud other sub-.500 teams for playing to win in September rather than folding.
"We've seen the difference between the teams that are just 'playing it out', and the teams that are playing hard, and to win," Gary Cohen pointed out on Sunday's broadcast. "The Marlins played wonderfully in the two series that the Mets played them, and the Marlins have a great September record!" "The Marlins have stood out as a team that has not packed it in," added Hernandez.
The Marlins, of course, have just as little to play for in September as the Reds and Phillies. At 69-88, the team will likely finish at least 20 games back in the NL East. At the major league level, all teams—no matter how woeful—will play for the win when the opportunity is present, a reality the Mets' broadcasters seem uncomfortable accepting.