A Watershed Game

How long can Ryne Sandberg afford to stick with a struggling Dom Brown?

How long can Ryne Sandberg afford to stick with a struggling Dom Brown?

It happened again last night. Cliff Lee gave the Phils seven innings of four hit, one earned run baseball. Once again, as has happened so many times since 2012, Lee was jobbed out of a win by an impotent bullpen that wouldn’t scare a bunch of 19 year-old’s from single A.

Lee gave way to Mike Adams to start the 8th inning. In his four appearances before last night Adams had pitched effectively, allowing just one run in 4.1 innings of work. Last night Adams threw 12 pitches. He was done. Denard Span led off the inning with a double on an 0-2 count. He then stole third base off Adams, who paid little to no attention to Span. Off a 1-2 pitch Anthony Rendon laced a single to center scoring Span. Up came Jason Werth who had two of the four hits allowed by Lee, but made the costly error responsible for the Phils three-run 1st inning. He hit a 3-1 pitch back through the box and Adams night was done. He faced three hitters and gave up three hits as fast as you could blink.

Enter Jake Diekman. In six pitches he allowed a single to Adam LaRoche and a double to Ian Desmond. The runs were charged to Adams whose final line on the night was zero innings, 3 hits and 3 earned runs allowed. After letting the game get out of hand Diekman proceeded to strike out the side. On paper Diekman’s ERA dropped from 7.30 to 6.75. His SO/9 increased from 14.0 to 15.5. On paper.

On the diamond he didn’t get the job done, plain and simple. It’s happened far too many times already this year. Though not officially scored upon Diekman did allow two inherited runners to score. Five times in 15 appearances he’s given up at least one ER while giving up two or more earned runs three times.

The Phils bullpen is last in the NL with a 5.07 ERA. Last year they finished 14th out of 15 teams in bullpen ERA so it was no secret the pen needed help. What was Reuben Amaro’s answer to the pen’s problems? He traded for one-time first round pick Brad Lincoln. He was demoted to AAA before April ended. Amaro also signed free agent journeyman Jeff Manship. He too was demoted to AAA in April. Who else did Amaro bring in? Oh yea, 38 year-old Shawn Camp. Sandberg thinks so highly of Camp that he’s pitched all of 1.2 innings this year.

Thanks a lot Ruben. The bullpen is directly responsible for six of the Phils 14 losses to date this year. If they were merely decent and had converted a very conservative three of the six blown opportunities into wins, the Phils record would stand at 16-13. Instead, today the Phils are in last place in the NL East.

Ryne Sandberg wasn’t so quick to lay the entire blame at the bullpen’s feet. He rightly pointed out the Phils offense couldn’t get anything going after their three-run first inning. The Phils had runners in scoring position four times between the 3rd and 8th innings last night and couldn’t plate a run. On three of those occasions they had one out or less.

The Phils have reverted back to a serious problem that plagued them all last year, scoring three runs or less in a game. In 14 out of 27 games (.518) the Phils have scored three runs or less this year. Their record in those games is 4-10. Last year the Phils scored 3 runs or less 86 times, good for a .531 clip. It doesn’t matter what the number is if it’s north of .500. It won’t be good enough to be a playoff team. If the trend of scoring three runs or less continues at a .500 pace it’s unlikely the Phils will be a .500 team.

The offense is somewhat improved this year, averaging 4.07 runs per game. That number is good for 9th place in the NL. The 2013 Phils scored 3.76 runs per game finishing 13th in the NL. What’s missing is consistency in scoring and lack of production from the bottom of the order, particularly Domonic Brown.

How bad has Brown been? Let’s put it this way, Domonic Brown has a lower slugging percentage than Ben Revere…and Revere has just one XBH to his name. I’m not for benching Brown just yet, but if he doesn’t get it going soon how long should Sandberg stick with him? Brown was the team leader last year in XBH’s, HR’s, RBI’s and SLG. In the same categories Brown’s ranking this year is 7th in XBH’s, tied for 5th with five other players that have one HR, 5th in RBI’s and 8th out of 8 starters in SLG. The fall from grace has been swift and merciless.

Many people thought Brown’s 2013 was mostly built on a great month of May in which he clubbed 12 of his 27 HR’s and drove in 25 of his 83 RBI’s. Below are Brown’s month by month power numbers for 2013.

April – 3 HR’s, 11 RBI’s, .372 SLG

May – 12 HR’s, 25 RBI’s, .688 SLG

June – 6 HR’s, 21 RBI’s, .537 SLG

July – 3 HR’s, 12 RBI’s, 471 SLG

August – 3 HR’s, 12 RBI’s, .431 SLG

September  – 0 HR’s, 2 RBI’s, .314 SLG

April, 2014 – 1 HR, 10 RBI’s, .316 SLG

Since July 2nd, 2013 Domonic Brown has slashed .260/322/.377 in 292 AB’s. Of his 76 hits only 19 (25%) have been for extra bases and only seven have been for HR’s. We also know he’s no defensive whiz in LF either, posting a negative dWAR last year and doing so again this year. Here’s my question to you, the fans…how long is Domonic Brown’s leash? How much time did his great May and excellent June last year buy him this year?

I’ll give you my answer now. What I won’t do is put any arbitrary numbers out there as markers for Brown to meet. Let’s just say if he hasn’t made significant improvement by June 1st and Darin Ruf is ready to play, I’m going with Ruf over Brown and I’m not looking back. At the very least I would platoon them, but I don’t think Brown would handle that well. I’ll stay with my gut instinct and my original thought. I’d play Darin Ruf and bench Domonic Brown.

Let’s take a look at Darin Ruf’s numbers by month since being called up last July 6th. In the three months Ruf played he had 251 AB’s. Though the sample size is small, it’s roughly equal to Brown’s.

July – 2 HR’s, 4 RBI’s, .484 SLG

August – 9 HR’s, 16 RBI’s, .505 SLG

September – 3 HR’s 10 RBI’s, .378 SLG.

Since July 6th, 2013 Darin Ruf has slashed .247/.348/.458 in 251 AB’s. Of his 62 hits 25 (40.32%) have been for extra bases and 14 have been for HR’s. The Phils have nurtured Brown for years, bringing him along slowly. They were finally rewarded with two very good months of baseball last year. Darin Ruf, whose been treated like a red-headed step child by Ruben Amaro and the Phils front office has shown he can hit for power since the day he got to South Philly in September, 2012. Granted it’s a small sample size, but so was the sample size on Brown before making him the every day LF last year.

Ruf has averaged one HR every 16.71 AB’s since making his major league debut. Batting from the right side would help balance out the lineup, which is lefty dominated and bereft of power. If Sandberg is serious about making a playoff run then he better be willing to make easy calls like benching a corner OF whose slugging .303, last on the Phillies behind the struggling Cody Asche and the powerless Ben Revere.

The Phils must take advantage of a very accommodating May schedule that includes 19 home games and only eight games against 2013 playoff teams (all at home). If the Phils continue losing winnable games, games that you can never get back, they will surely be a sub .500 team and most likely the NL East door mat.

Something must be done before the season gets away from the Phils. If Ruf is part of the offensive answer, how does manager Ryne Sandberg address the bullpen issues? There is little hope there, but the hope there is lies with Ethan Martin and perhaps Ken Giles. There’s no one in the bullpen I trust to give the ball to in the 8th inning. I was leery about Adams come back before it began and I still am. His body’s been through a grinder and it shows in his fastball. Not just in the lost velocity, but in how he spots it.

We’ve all heard the old axiom “Good teams find ways to win and bad teams finds ways to lose”. Last night, the way the Phils relievers choked in the 8th and the offense couldn’t plate a run after the 1st, they epitomized that saying. It wasn’t the first game they blew this year and it won’t be the last, but if they don’t cut down on games that should go in the W column real soon, this season could have a premature ending. As much as I like the Eagles I’d like the Phillies to be the center of sports talk here in July, not Camp Kelly.

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About yougottalovethepain

I'm a long time sports fan that's passionate about Philly sports. I agree with Vince Lombardi when he said "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing". To win, you gotta love the pain and do what your competitors aren't willing to do.

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