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Strikeouts are killing the Phillies

Phils hitters haven’t been putting their bat on the ball a whole lot here in 2018.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is at its most unwatchable when teams don’t hit and, especially, when they don’t put the ball in play.

Right now, the Phillies are pretty much unwatchable.

After falling to the Mets 4-2 on Wednesday, the Phils are sporting a collective team batting average of .182, worst in the National League. Things were looking up after four innings against Noah Syndergaard when, with the score tied 2-2, they chased the long-haired Marvel character after forcing him to throw 92 pitches. But against the four Mets relievers that followed, Phillies hitters managed only one hit over the final five innings, with eight strikeouts and no walks.

In all, the Phillies struck out 15 times in 33 plate appearances against New York pitching on Wednesday, matching their season-high in whiffs from 2017. They came into the series having struck out in 26.3% of PAs, and that number jumped to 29.6% after their 15-K performance against Thor & Co.

Interestingly, there is an area in which the Phillies are doing well. Against Syndergaard, Phils batters averaged 5.11 pitches per plate appearance and have the highest pitches per plate appearance in baseball. Coming into the game, they had walked in 11.5% of their plate appearances, 5th-best in baseball. Their walk-to-strikeout ratio was in the middle of the pack in the National League coming into Wednesday, but that number took a hit with a 15/2 K/BB ratio in the series finale.

Too many hitters are just flat-out not hitting the baseball. Aaron Altherr is batting .059. J.P. Crawford is hitting .067. Maikel Franco and Nick Williams are both hitting .091. That’s four players with batting averages all under .100. Jorge Alfaro is batting .143. Odubel Herrera is hitting .154. Carlos Santana is at .167, and Andrew Knapp is at .182.

Only Scott Kingery (.286), Rhys Hoskins (.471, 1.374 OPS) and Cesar Hernandez (.286, .824 OPS) are doing anything offensively.

So, how can the Phillies be doing this good a job at working pitchers and drawing walks and yet are unable to deliver a key base hit in clutch situations?

The most reasonable answer is likely that this is an anomaly due to a small sample size. It stands to reason that the Phils are going to be far more successful in their patient approach than if they swung early in the count all the time.

However, there is a danger when it comes to being patient. Sometimes a patient approach means a hitter gets himself into a lot of two-strike situations, which can lead to a lot of strikeouts. It can mean letting a hittable pitch go by when a batter is ahead in the count, instead of trying to drive it somewhere.

And the idea of driving out a starting pitcher early to hit against the soft underbelly of a team’s middle relief corps isn’t the key to success it once was. Bullpens are filled with hard-throwing middle relievers who can pitch two to three innings at a time. The drop-off from Syndergaard to anyone is significant, but on most days, getting the starter out of the way isn’t as great an advantage as it once was.

Five games is not enough to determine anything other than the obvious - the Phillies are working the count, walking a good amount, striking out a ton and scoring few runs. Hitters are forcing pitchers to throw a lot of pitches, but are letting them off the hook by ultimately not putting the bat on the ball.

Will it change once the team plays at home for the first time this season? Will it change when the weather gets a little less Arctic?

One can only hope. And take heart, Phils fans.

You’re not alone.