In our April 21st blog we explained that Philly Sports Rant would be grading the Phillies every 18 games. Why 18? Because there’s nine 18-game “innings” in a season.
The Phils had a chance to finish their second 18-game inning with a three-game sweep of the hated New York Mets Sunday. A win would have also meant a 10-8 record in the Phils 2nd inning and a .500 record on the season. After throwing a career high 133 pitches and only allowing one earned run, Cole Hamels deserved his first win of the year and 100th of his career.
Unfortunately for Hamels and Phils fans it wasn’t meant to be. A familiar culprit, the bullpen, reared it’s ugly head yet again. The Phils gave up three runs in the 9th to allow the Mets to tie the game. In the 10th inning little used Jeff Manship took the ball and actually got 4 outs before giving up the game winning hit to Ruben Tejada in the 11th. After 36 games the Phils are now 17-19, tied for last place in the NL East and still four games behind the division leading Braves.
The Phils were in last place and four back of the Braves after the first inning. Not much has changed, though there were ample opportunities to make up ground. The 2nd inning began swift and sure for the Phils as they took 3 of 4 from the LA Dodgers and 2 of 3 from the Dbacks to complete a 10-game west coast trip. A 5-2 start to the 2nd inning, on the road, seemed to have the Phils back on track. Then they lost an abbreviated one-game series to the Mets before taking 2 of 3 from another heated rival, the Nats. At 7-4 for the inning things were looking up for the Phillies. They were 15-14 on the season and only 1.5 games behind the 1st place Braves. Then came the Blue Jays.
The Phils had a 4-game home and home series with the Jays. Counting the final game of the Nats series the Phils went scoreless in 35 of the next 36 innings and lost all 4 games to the Jays. The Phils were shut out twice and outscored 31-11 in the 4-game set. The inconsistency of the offense reminded us again how tough it will be to contend this season.
In the the first 18 games we saw how the inconsistent offense, terrible bullpen and the starting pitching not going deep enough into games resulted in a 8-10 record. The starters have been doing better in the second inning averaging over 7 innings per start, but the offense remains wildly inconsistent and the bullpen still can’t be counted on.
In the 18 games played the offense was held to 3 runs or less nine times, bringing the total to 18 games in which scoring 3 runs has been the ceiling. It’s difficult, if not impossible to be competitive when the team is only scoring 3 runs or less in half the teams games.
Offensively the Phils are getting very little from rookie 3B Cody Asche, CF Ben Revere and LF Dom Brown. Brown is the most troubling of the trio because he was being counted on to build off his breakout season of 2013 when he led the Phils in HR’s, RBI’s, XBH’s and SLG. Through the season’s first 36 games Brown is slashing a meager .225/.284/.287 with just one HR. Brown’s HR drought goes back to August 14, 2013 when he hit his last HR of the Braves Brandon Beachy. In the next 244 PA through game 36 of this year Brown has just one HR.
It’s beginning to get to the point where it looks like Dom Brown may have just been a two-month flash last year. In 2013 he hit 18 HR’s in May and June, with 12 coming in May. The Phils brass is rightfully worried about Brown. They’ve nurtured him through the years he carried the “can’t miss” prospect tag and thought he finally arrived last year. Now no one is sure what the Phils have in Brown.
The offense’s troubles don’t begin and end with Brown though. The leadoff hitter Ben Revere has an OBP of .293. Manager Ryne Sandberg must soon make a decision on pulling him from the leadoff spot. He’s given Revere days off and pulled him for late inning defensive replacements but little is working for Revere. His defense seems to have regressed since last year and nobody was confusing him with a Gold Glove outfielder in 2013.
Benching Revere would be acknowledging it was a mistake trading for him in the first place. Not because the Phils gave up so much to acquire Revere, because he came relatively cheap, but because there is no one on the roster who is an every day center fielder. The Phils put their CF eggs in Revere’s slap hitting basket and now they’re not sure what to do with him. He has little to no trade value, so if he doesn’t start he becomes another weak hitting bench player. Rumors have been floated that Sandberg is considering an outfield of Ruf and Brown in the corners while moving Byrd to CF. This obviously can’t happen until Ruf is ready to return giving Revere a couple more weeks to prove he can do the job.
Cody Asche’s struggles aren’t entirely unexpected. After all he only hit .235 in his 50-game audition last year. It was hoped he would improve on 2013 numbers and keep third base from being a liability until the Phils best prospect Maikel Franco is ready. Like Revere and Brown, Asche is not only struggling at the plate, but he’s also struggling defensively at the hot corner. The Phils can’t have four easy outs in their lineup every night and expect to win, but through 36 games that’s exactly what they have.
Rollins is having his best season since the Phils went to the World Series in 2008. Marlon Byrd has performed as well or better than most people expected. Chase Utley looks completely healthy and having one of the best seasons of his storied career. Carlos Ruiz has bounced back from his 2013 woes to once again become one of the NL’s top catchers.
Now we come to the Big Piece, the player everyone knew had to have a big season for the Phils to compete this year. Through the first 36 games Howard has slashed .255/.322/.460 with 7 HR’s and 21 RBI’s. He’s having his best year since 2011, but isn’t close to the player he was in his prime. Still, through the first 36 games Howard is on pace for 31 HR’s and 94 RBI’s. If everyone else in the lineup were doing their job the offense wouldn’t be the liability it is.
With such little home run power on the team (they’re 14th in the NL) the Phils must draw walks and hit in bunches to score. With Asche, Brown and Revere all struggling mightily there’s simply not enough fire power up and down the lineup to score runs consistently. The bullpen continues it’s struggles too, with Jonathan Papelbon being the only consistent pitcher the Phils can call on.
Grade: Though the Phils went 9-9 in the 18-game 2nd inning it’s still hard to grade them any higher than a C-. There are too many holes, too many reasons the Phils can’t and won’t string wins together like they need to compete. Last year the Phils scored 139 less runs than they gave up. After 36 games they’re on pace to score 135 less runs than they allow this year.
Last year Ruben Amaro told us that injuries to key players and Charlie Manuel were to blame for the team’s poor showing. This year the Phils have been relatively healthy and the manager is Ryne Sandberg, yet the problems that plagued the 2013 Phils seem to have carried over to 2014. With an inconsistent offense and the NL’s worse bullpen it’s hard to see how the Phils will compete. They’re staying in the race now because no one has yet to take control of the division. Though the opportunity is there the Phils simply don’t have enough talent to make a run. They’ve hung around .500 through these first 36 games but I don’t expect that to last.
Help is on the way with Darin Ruf looking to return by June 1st and Ethan Martin pitching well in his rehab assignment, but they alone won’t be enough to right the ship. The Phils are being carried by their 34 and up core, but as the season wears on I expect them to start breaking down or at the very least slowing down. That’s when the death spiral will start.