I know what you’re going to say before you even say it. Doom? Really, Stolnis? Doom, you say?
Look, I don’t want to be overly dramatic here, but it’s entirely possible the Phillies have spent their last and only day in first place this season, and things could get pretty rough around here for the next little while.
Despite having jumped into first place last Saturday for a glorious, if brief, 20 hours, and despite winning a huge series against the Atlanta Braves at home last week, the Phils suddenly find themselves in third place in the division and in a precarious spot.
Yes, they’re still just one game out of first, so clearly not a whole lot has changed in the standings. But there are reasons to be concerned after their disheartening 5-4 loss to the Dodgers in Los Angeles last night and what we’ve seen from the team over the last two weeks.
Phillies Offense Last 14 Days
The offense has been up-and-down for much of the season, but the struggles over the last 14 days have been real, and noticeable. They rank near the bottom in nearly every statistical category during that stretch, and over their last 11 games, their record is 5-6.
They’ve been propped up by a starting staff that has a 3.33 ERA this season, 4th-best in the NL, and a 2.69 ERA over the last 14 days, 2nd-best in the National League, but how much longer can that last?
There’s been a lot of talk about Rhys Hoskins and moving him out of the 2-hole in the order, and that should be done, but only four regulars have been an above-average run producer in terms of wRC+ (100 is considered league average) — Carlos Santana (170), Odubel Herrera (155), Nick Williams (147) and Cesar Hernandez (107). Aaron Altherr (95), Maikel Franco (92), Jorge Alfaro (85), Scott Kingery (40) and Hoskins (45), have all been producing runs at a below average level this month.
Hoskins’ and Kingery’s slumps are especially hurtful, but there’s nothing much the team can do but run them out there (perhaps at different spots in the lineup) and hope they get out of it. It’s also fair to wonder if the approach being stressed to some of these players by Gabe Kapler and hitting coach John Mallee is having a negative effect on performance. It’s hard to say.
Nevertheless, it’s still just late May, so there is hope this group can turn it around. But the Phillies have been living by pitching alone, and that’s a dangerous way to fly.
In their loss to the Dodgers on Monday night, the defense imploded in L.A.’s three-run 8th inning in one of the uglier displays we’ve seen this year (video has been cued to the start of the 8th).
And that’s saying something, given how bad the defense has been this season. They rank last in Defensive Runs Saved (-31), have made the 3rd-most errors in MLB this year (39), and their .979 fielding percentage (an admittedly flawed stat, but point me in the direction of a defensive stat that isn’t flawed) is 2nd-worst in baseball.
Uncertain Late Inning Arms
Tommy Hunter (5.11 ERA) has not been a reliable late-inning reliever since joining the team this month, and Hector Neris’ problems (4.50 ERA) closing down games without buckets of stress are well documented.
Luis Garcia is pitching better than he ever has in his career, with a 3.74 ERA and a career-best strikeout percentage of 20.7%. He’s also walking fewer batters than ever before, 6.9%, and opponents are hitting just .182 against him, but he has no track record of being an effective set-up man. Nor has Edubray Ramos, who has a great ERA this season (0.95), but a FIP of 3.59 and a walk rate of 12.0% that doesn’t exactly scream “lock-down.” Adam Morgan is fine as a lefty specialist, but he’s not a true late-inning, multi-hitter option on most nights.
The two big arms in the back of the ‘pen right now are Seranthony Dominguez (who recorded another 4 outs without allowing a run to score last night) and Victor Arano, who is carrying a 1.17 ERA and 1.48 FIP this season. The team desperately needs Pat Neshek to return and for at least one other arm to emerge as a true, late-inning option.
The Phils’ hitting, fielding and bullpen issues are coming at the worst time possible. The Phils play three more games against an improving Dodgers club, play three in San Francisco this weekend — Madison Bumgarner is expected to return from the DL in that series against the Phillies — and then get three in Chicago against the Cubs.
In fact, the combined winning percentage of the teams the Phillies will play in the month of June is .568 (208-158 record coming into Tuesday). The only team they will play next month that currently has a losing record is this weekend’s opponent, the Giants (25-29).
It’s their toughest stretch of the season.
Here Come The Nats
Don’t look now, but preseason favorite to win the NL East, the Washington Nationals, are on a roll. They’ve jumped ahead of the Phils in the standings by a half-game after another win on Monday, have gone 17-6 in May, with a run differential of +49 that is 12 runs better than the Phils’ +37.
Washington should get All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy back soon, and their outstanding leadoff hitter, Adam Eaton, should be back at the end of June. Their rotation is still ridiculously good, and they have their own rookie phenom, 19-year-old Juan Soto, who is already making an impact in the outfield.
The Braves will still be in the mix too, even with Ronald Acuna on the 10-day DL with an injured ankle. Acuna appears to have escaped a disastrous injury, and Atlanta still has one of the best offenses in the NL.
I know I unloaded a lot of negativity on you in this piece. Just remember...
More terrible news for the Mets, with Syndergaard going on the DL with a strained ligament in his finger.— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnobler) May 29, 2018
...at least we’re not the Mets.