Okay. Let's start with the facts.
- Phillies starters have survived later than the fifth inning only 15 times in 38 games, and Phillies pitchers have given up to the 5th most ER in baseball (184) as well as the most home runs (Tied with the Dodgers at 61) which is bad, but is expounded by
- The bullpen, which is allowing the most home runs in all of baseball's bullpens with 27 and doing their part in contributing to Phillies pitchers allowing at least two home runs in eight straight games, but that's not even their fault all of the time because
- The coaches haven't assigned anyone specific bullpen roles and don't seem to have a strategy in place for deploying or even warming up pitchers, and not to mention
- The starting catcher was called out in public for his faulty pitch selection, just as he was starting to move his bat from a still position into a swinging motion that made contact with the ball, a rare feat in this lineup when you consider that
- The offense is stifled, undisciplined, and untimely, as we have watched slugger Maikel Franco hit .213 with a .643 OPS and sink to seventh in the batting order, fading away before our very eyes and removing himself from the imagined futures we so gleefully envisioned just weeks ago.
What did we want this team to be again? I had settled on "an annoyance." A bug in the ear for division leaders thinking that would wallop and crush their way into the playoffs. Not register for the post season themselves, certainly, but provide more than a carcass for the National League's elite teams to step on as they climbed to the top.
And what have they become? Well, let's ask the Rangers.
Oh, no, you can't, because their mouths are full of substandard, discounted pizza. But if they weren't laughing and having a celebratory pizza fight, they'd tell you the Phillies were barely noticeable as they became the last three wins of the Rangers' nine-game win streak on Thursday afternoon, the longest such streak in all of baseball this season.
There's a lot wrong here, with this 14-24 team. And you know the beats to hit as well as I do. Because the Phillies haven't actually lost 24 games. They've lost the same game about 15-20 times.
Joely Rodriguez is still the only lefty the Phillies have had to work with all season. The "best" young relievers are displaced starters riding the IronPig Express to and from Allentown. Without an injury, Jeanmar Gomez is likely still making regular appearances out of the bullpen, even with his loss of the closership being one of the few changes made thus far this season. Maikel Franco is making "progress" because he hasn't had his BA sink below .200 this month, yet. Cesar Hernandez and Altherr are still hitting over .300 (but Hernandez is hitting .262 with 1 XBH in 61 AB so far this month, as opposed to .323 with 10 XBH in 96 April AB), Michael Saunders can't scrap too much success together, Howie Kendrick is still out with an injury, and Odubel Herrera is back to being lost in one of his statistical valleys. Stop me if you've heard this one: The Phillies are reportedly listening to trade offers on Jeremy Hellickson. Other teams are even repeating their antagonisms of the Phanatic, ignoring that he is likely one or two provocations away from retaliation that will require dozens of staffers and several full clips of elephant tranquilizers to bring to a violent end.
The Phillies have played in 15 games determined by one run, 11 of which were losses. They are one of six teams to not record a shut-out in 2017. Over their seven-game road trip from April 28 - May 4, they held a lead in all seven games and lost six. They've lost by five or more runs only four times. They are 0-5 against the American League. They are 3-12 in May, outscored by opponents 93-67.
ME, the conscious Phillies: /May 11 is a great day to announce the manager's contract extension— Wet Luzinski (@Wet_Luzinski) May 19, 2017
ALSO ME, the subconscious Phillies: pic.twitter.com/myydGwbkaU
Their inability to win close games is due to a combination of the above listed problems: a pitching staff short on tools and questionable on management and a lineup in which as soon as one guy seems to figure things out, another one starts looking lost. In late/close games, the Phillies are actually seventh in baseball in BA (.269) and OBP (.353), meaning they are probably due for some luck. But that's not all an offense needs when it seems like only 3-4 guys at a time are able to make solid contact. And one of them is Daniel Nava, who doesn't play every day.
What's new and different of late? Tommy Joseph started hitting the ball, logging the second highest OPS (1.397) in all of baseball for the month of May, behind only Aaron Altherr. Cameron Rupp is slashing .306/.375/.500. Pat Neshek finally started allowing some earned runs.
One notable difference following Thursday's loss:
"If somebody says it's OK, it's not OK. We're (bleeping) losing a lot of games."
"I still think our bullpen is gonna be fine."
Baseball is a slow-moving sport, and no one struggles to survive it more than the manager. He doesn't go through as much physically and his emotions may not be as raw, but that's the thing: he doesn't allow himself to as visibly traverse the peaks and valleys of a long season and instead of choosing to forget everything and start slump-busting by tunneling inward and focusing on his own performance, at the end of the day, he needs to worry about the output of 25 other humans and how to set them up to succeed. This isn't to say it isn't frustrating when he leaves us scratching our heads, but he's got to carry the deadening weight of a long, long season and all of its, long, long dark periods. He has to say things like "our bullpen is gonna be fine" as we all gawk and quote-tweet with sarcastic responses. Mackanin isn't the kind of manager to uncap his pressure valve in front of the media. He's got to sit in that chair and say everything's going to be fine.
And he's not necessarily wrong. It's not unfathomable that the Phillies string together some wins and wind up within shouting distance of .500. Which isn't the loftiest of goals, but again, I'm not going for "lofty," I'm going to "not unfathomable." Even so, the reason behind the irritation of this post and many other laments yesterday afternoon is that this is exactly the sort of team, thus far, one and a half months into the season, that we didn't want to see. While you can pull progress out of losses and development out of ****-ups, it seemed a wider notion that this year, the natural scrappiness and raw talent of the New Phillies would manifest itself in a couple of wins now and then. Especially now, the beginning of the season, a period last year when even the 2016 Phillies kept us awake between yawns with a 20-15 record.
But that was a different team. A different time. Our presumptions that it would also be a worse time than now might have been a little off. I've been repeating it all year, and will continue to: This is development. You have to figure out what's not working to get to the stuff that works; to find the Aaron Altherr's and the Cesar Hernandez's, to let young starting pitchers work out their kinks (though it would help if it felt like they were getting the coaching that... guh, never mind). The unfortunate truth is that at the end of the day, the names, faces, and ages have changed, but these Phillies don't look too different from the Phillies who have been bumming us out. Maybe we got a little ahead of ourselves. Maybe Mackanin - or even some guys in the front office - are developing, too.
In her recap of the Phillies' smashing at the hands of the Rangers on Thursday, Liz Roscher gave a glimpse of what's coming: "There is a day in the future, most likely years away, where we’ll look back on games like this and know that they were worth it."
But, we won't. We won't remember that game at all. When the Phillies next roll down Broad Street, shielded from the toxic air and radiation by a safety bubble, we won't even remember the Phillies went to Texas for a couple of days in May 2017. We'll just know that those days are over. And we're all a little anxious to get there.