The Philadelphia Phillies are digging themselves an early hole. The Phils have lost 14 of their first 24 games coming into Saturday, and this in a division that promises very little margin for error. Philly is six games out, with three teams ahead of them—and Washington hasn’t really started to click yet.
Last year the Phils were one of the game’s big disappointments. Expectations weren’t as high this year, but this was still supposed to be a contender. What the problem is and whether it’s going to turnaround is our topic on in today’s National League MLB coverage.
Philadelphia’s problems are threefold…
- Star pitchers are not pitching like it
- Anyone not named Chase Utley is flailing helplessly at the plate
- Bullpen depth is lacking
I’m going to start with the last problem, simply because it does look to be the most short-term. Jonathan Papelbon has closed all four save chances at a 2.25 ERA and Antonio Bastardo is off to a very good start, with a buck-08 ERA. Philadelphia’s going to need at least two more arms to really become reliable, and I think they can reasonably count on Mike Adams to be one of them. A proven eighth-inning man, Adams hasn’t been terrible—4.00 ERA—and can easily get hot.
Whether this area of the team can be really deep depends on the immediate and drastic improvement from a several other young pitchers, but at the very least they should have a Bastardo-Adams-Papelbon tag team to rely on most nights. If the Phillies fail to turn their season around it’s unlikely to be the bullpen’s fault.
It’s also unlikely to be the fault of the starting pitching, but there’s no getting around the staff of aces deserves a load of the blame for poor April play. Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels each have ERAs a bit over 5 and newly acquired John Lannan was first terrible, then hit the disabled list until June.
Cliff Lee, after a slow start a year ago when he didn’t win a game until June, is pitching well, with a 3.03 ERA and has a couple victories. Kyle Kendrick is also throwing the ball very well. The importance of the latter can’t be underestimated. Halladay and Hamels are going to turn it around—in fact both have already shown signs of life in the latter part of this month, and if Kendrick stays as a solid fourth starter, Philadelphia will be well-poised for some long winning streaks.
But while pitching may be the most important part of the game, it’s not everything and the offense is just not getting the job done. While Utley is having a comeback year (.355 on-base percentage/.529 slugging percentage), the rest of the lineup is having problems. Ryan Howard has hit four home runs, but done little else. Michael Young has a solid .393 on-base percentage, but that can’t make up for the ineptness provided by Jimmy Rollins, Ben Revere and Dominic Brown.
Brown, a young rightfielder who’s had great minor league reviews but little in the way of major league production, is behind the eight-ball in his first shot at regular playing time. Rollins has done next to nothing since his MVP year of 2007—a year he was still overrated—and is one of the most overrated position players in baseball. Revere won deserved praise for his classy “Pray For Boston” inscription inside his glove the night of the Marathon bombing. On the less important—but more pertinent for the sake of this article—topic of his offensive production, it just hasn’t been there.
Philadelphia is tied for 10th in the National League in runs scored and I don’t see any reason to expect significant improvement. The return of Carlos Ruiz from a suspension—expected tomorrow—will help, but it’s not as though Ruiz is going to turn this into an offense that’s even in the top half of the NL. That’s going to take someone like a Revere or a Brown catching fire and really setting the table, and I’m not optimistic that will happen.
Thus, the question becomes whether the Phils will compete with a subpar offense. As long it stays “subpar” and doesn’t descend into “atrocious”, I think the answer is yes. The starting pitching is already getting better and if they can get Lannan healthy that will add to the depth come summertime. What we don’t know is what kind of shape Philadelphia will be in the standings. Last year they caught fire in the final six weeks but had too big a deficit to make up. The hole certainly isn’t that deep yet, but the slow start means Philadelphia does have to play with some urgency.
SEPARATING THEMSELVES FROM THE PACK
Most of the National League is teams packed up against one another, but each division has seen one team separate itself in the wrong direction. I don’t think anyone was expecting Miami, the Chicago Cubs or San Diego to seriously contend, and the first four weeks of the season have confirmed that.
Rather than pile on these teams—their opponents are doing plenty of that already—let’s single out some positives on each cellar-dwellar.
*Miami starting pitcher Kevin Slowey has a 2.43 ERA in five starts and the former Twins hurler could be rejuvenating his career in South Beach.
*Chicago’s actually gotten good starting pitching overall. Their third in the National League in ERA, and the two biggest reasons are Carlos Villanueva and Travis Wood. Each pitcher has made four starts, with ERAs of 1.53 and 2.08 respectively.
*San Diego’s Chris Denorfia is swinging a good bat, with a. 380/.462 stat line in a park where numbers are tough to come by.