Phillies Putting Themselves In Early Holes

Phillies starters are having a tough time keeping games close early. - Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The first three innings have been one of the chief bugaboos for the 2014 Phils.

If it feels like the Phillies have started almost every game playing from behind this year, you're not crazy.

By the end of the third inning this year, the Phillies have been outscored by 34 runs, 94-60. The second and third innings have been particularly hairy, with the Phils getting outscored 57-28, a difference of 29 runs.

In the middle innings, things stabilize a bit, with the Phils getting outscored by 4 runs, 95-91. In the final three innings, the Phils once again struggle to make up ground, 94-85, a difference of -9 runs.

Of course, all innings are created equally. There is no clock in baseball, so the Phillies are just as capable of scoring in the later innings as they are the early ones. However, I postulate that repeatedly falling behind early makes it harder for a team to consistently win baseball games.

The responsibility lies at the feet of both the starters and the offense. Here is what the starters have done in innings one through three this year heading into last night's game against San Diego, with the National League team rank in parentheses (huge h/t to Schmenkman for help with the numbers)...

Runs R/G OPS Allowed BABIP K/BB
Phils' Starters 94 (12) 2.93 (15) .747 (14) .317 (15) 2.27 (14)

Phils' starters have been putting the team in an early hole for much of the first 62 games of the season, although some of their early-inning failures are BAbip-related. Whether that's due to luck or other factors, one would expect that number to normalize a little bit.

The main problem with the starters early, however, is their strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is within their control. They're 14th in the NL in K/BB, allowing far too many batters to reach base and/or put the ball in play. The result has been an average of 2.93 runs scored per game in the first three innings, most in the National League.

And while all those early runs make things harder on the offense, clearly the bats could be doing better as well...

Runs R/G OPS BAbip HR
Phils' Offense 60 (14) 0.97 (15) .643 (14) .280 (12) 16 (11)

The offense is simply taking too long to get warmed up. Last night was a good example, going quietly in innings 1-3 against Padres starter Ian Kennedy, before heating up and scoring four runs in the 4th. Their 60 runs scored in the first three innings is second-worst in the NL, and they are scoring just under a run per game in the early innings, last in the National League. Their OPS is second-worst and their 16 home runs are more than just four NL teams.

It's a bad combination, giving up a ton of runs early and not scoring many.

Playing from behind is a tough slog, especially when you're doing it every night. And while it may not be the biggest factor in the team's early-season struggles, it certainly is not insignificant.

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