The 2016 Phillies season has been one of ups and downs. On the up end was, of course, the first two months where they defied both preseason projections and their actual performance—at least in terms of run differential—to populate the upper half of the National League East standings. On the down end of things has been, basically, everything else.
Unlike most teams who have, at times, looked like a real baseball team and at others have not, the Phillies have always looked like the same team. Put another way, no consistent observer of the Phillies is under any illusions about what this team is in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Across their ups and downs, the song of the Phillies season has remained the same. In just about every way, the Phillies loss to the Marlins tonight captured everything that has been true of the team this season. Let’s, then, view the game through the lens of those season-wide themes.
Good Starting Pitching
We’ve been treated to some phenomenal starting pitching this season with the Phillies. From Vince Velasquez’s 16 strikeout performance against the Padres in April to Aaron Nola’s first three months to Jeremy Hellickson’s last two starts against the Marlins to Zach Eflin’s two complete games, there has been no shortage of pitching that has been worth the time of watching this team.
All the while, Jerad Eickhoff has been there. After some early-season struggles, he’s found his own in the last couple months thanks to an increased reliance on his curveball. Tonight, Eickhoff had one of those starts to add to the growing list of excellent Phillies starting pitching performances this season. Through seven innings, Eickhoff struck out eight Marlins while allowing only five hits, one walk, and one run. It wasn’t always pretty, starting with the lead-off line drive from Ichiro that was only an out because Peter Bourjos was occupying the portion of the field it was hit to. But at other times, Eickhoff made the Marlins hitters look silly.
Unfortunately, Eickhoff’s performance wasn’t a winning one because of the second defining theme of the Phillies season—an offense that has largely been incapable of scoring runs. Against Tom Koehler—who, when facing teams with real major league hitters, is a not great pitcher—the Phillies mustered only three hits and one walk over six innings. They had no extra base hits. This isn’t new. You keep reading this, but it keeps being true: If the 2016 Atlanta Braves didn’t exist concurrently with the 2016 Phillies, we’d be hearing a lot more about how bad the Phillies offense is. When Tommy F. Koehler repeatedly shuts this team down like he’s Clayton Kershaw, that’s when you know you have a really bad offense on your hands.
It’s become a Phillies game tradition for them to do something stupid on the basepaths. Whether it’s getting caught in a rundown or getting picked off first or simply getting caught stealing a base. In the third innings Freddy Galvis took off for second with two out, Cesar Hernandez at the plate, and the game tied at 0-0. All-in-all it wasn’t the worst decision the team has made on the basepaths this season, but it didn’t work out. ESPN is telling me that this was only Galvis’ third tiime caught stealing this season. It feels like way more.
Shaky Relief Pitching
While Jerad Eickhoff was in the game for seven innings, the Phillies were, at least superficially, in the game. Even the Phillies can score one run off Tom Koehler. But, in the eighth inning Pete Mackanin opted to go with Andrew Bailey instead of a more trusted reliever like David Hernandez or Hector Neris, and, let me tell you, the Phillies bullpen revealed its lack of depth. Bailey only recorded one out and threw 17 pitches, but managed to give up a run on a Giancarlo Stanton groundrule double before being lifted for Severino Gonzalez. Gonzalez gave up two more runs for Bailey and even added in one of his own on a walk, a single, and a double. Brett Oberholtzer did not appear in this game, but boy did it feel like his kind of game.
If we’ve learned anything from 100+ games of this team, it’s that these four things will continue to happen. If you want to get a real feel for this season, you might have only had to watch tonight’s game.