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The Phillies offensive problems summarized in one inning

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One inning from Tuesday’s Cubs game pins down the main problem the Phillies’ offense is having.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Before the bashing of the Phillies offense commences, we should get one thing out of the way first.

It’s better. The Phils’ offense is most definitely better in 2017.

Last year they were last in runs scored (610), and were second-to-last in the slash line categories (.240/.301/.385). Their wOBA (.296) was worst, as was their wRC+ (82).

This year, they are 14th in runs scored (119), tied for 10th in batting average (.251), 16th in OBP (.318) and 8th in SLG (.427). Their wOBA of .321 is tied for 11th and their wRC+ of 96 is 15th.

In many areas, those are quantum leaps forward, and some praise must go out to new hitting coach Matt Stairs, and the Phils hitters, most of whom were here last year. Some are showing signs of improvement, some picked up where they left off last season, and some are still struggling.

But as you watch the games, you know the Phillies are giving away golden opportunities to put up some really crooked numbers. And unlike last year, the top of the lineup has been a strength, one of the best in baseball.

The Phils’ No. 1 hitters have a .362 OBP, a .509 SLG and an OPS of .871. That’s mainly been the domain of Cesar Hernandez, who is off to a red-hot start. The players who have hit No. 2 this year, primarily Aaron Altherr and Howie Kendrick, have been even better, with an OBP of .455, a slugging percentage of .656 and an OPS of 1.111, heading into Wednesday’s match-up with the Cubs.

It is the 3-4-5-6 hitters, the heart of the order, that has let the team down in 2017.

Phillies Phlailing Heart of the Order

Position OBP SLG OPS wRC+ Rank
Position OBP SLG OPS wRC+ Rank
3rd 0.327 0.34 0.667 28
4th 0.29 0.372 0.662 23
5th 0.314 0.351 0.665 24
6th 0.282 0.341 0.622 23

The table setters have done their job. It’s the RBI men, the so-called “run producers” that aren’t producing a whole lot of runs.

The Phils’ batting average with runners in scoring position is at .250 (16th in MLB), their OBP is .310 (25th), their slugging percentage is .425 (17th) and their OPS is .735 (20th).

Herrera is hitting .259/394/.296 with RISP, Franco is at .161/.263/.387, Michael Saunders is batting .167/.200/.208 with runners in scoring position, and Tommy Joseph is at .286/.273/.476 in those situations.

And perhaps no inning of any game this year summed up the Phils’ struggles with the heart of the order better than the 5th inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Cubs.

After Hernandez reached safely on an error and Altherr reached on a walk, the Phillies had runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out and the meat of the order next in line. Typically, this is the kind of situation where a good team can put up a big inning.

But up next was Odubel Herrera, hitting No. 3. He’s having a good season, but on Tuesday, his at-bat with with the Phillies down by four against an admittedly-tough lefty in Jon Lester was wholly unimpressive.

Franco, hitting the No. 4 spot, worked a terrific one-out walk to load the bases.

That brought up the struggling Michael Saunders, who was hitting No. 5. He got ahead in the count 2-0, but swung at a breaking pitch low-and-away for strike one. He then got ahead in the count 3-1 and, expecting another fastball, did not get one.

Some credit must go to Lester, who refused to give in to Saunders while behind in the count and made some great pitches low and away.

So now with runners on second and third and two out, a single at least gets the Phillies to within one run. But the No. 6 hitter, Tommy Joseph, struck out.

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In this instance, the Phils’ 3, 5 and 6 hitters failed to hit the ball out of the infield and, as a result, the Phillies managed just one run in the inning.

That is supposed to be the heart of the order. And right now, it’s barely murmuring.

In order for the offense to finally take that next step forward, the power guys are going to have to turn it out, especially as the top of the order continues to get on base at a prolific clip.

Until they do, a lot of rallies are going to end up like the 5th inning against Lester on Tuesday.