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Phillies hitters don’t need to be awesome to contend, just not terrible

Phillies pitchers are still doing awesome, which means the Phils’ offense just needs to do a little bit more to stay in the race.

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

The Phillies offense has been bad lately. Maybe you’ve heard.

After falling 2-1 to the Boston Red Sox last night, the Phils have fallen two games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. They have hit .208 as a team with a .288 on-base percentage this month, have lost five of their last seven and are averaging 2.28 runs a game in their last seven.

Those are not good numbers. Guess what? I have more.

For the season, only four NL teams have scored fewer runs than the Phils (507), their .234 average is 2nd-worst (the Mets are at .230), their .316 OBP is 10th out of 15 teams, and their .390 slugging percentage is 11th.

The Mets have a team slash line of .230/.309/.380 this season. The Phillies’ is .234/.316/.390.

So how are they even within striking distance of the Braves and six games better than the Washington Nationals? How are they still holding the 2nd wild card spot in the National League (by one game over the hard-charging Cardinals)? How are they doing this with the worst defense in baseball, too?

It’s simple. In the regular season, pitching means a lot, and the Phils have had one of the very best pitching staffs in baseball.

Phillies pitching has been worth 17.5 fWAR this year, 3rd-best in the Majors. Only the Astros and Red Sox have been better, according to that metric. Their rotation ERA of 3.68 is 7th-best and their bullpen ERA is 11th out of 30 MLB teams, however, since the All Star break, their ‘pen ERA of 2.83 is 2nd only to the Athletics.

In three games against the unquestioned best offense in the Majors, Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Nick Pivetta have shut the Boston Red Sox down completely. In those three starts (small sample size alert!) they have thrown 18 innings, given up 12 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks and recorded 19 strikeouts.

It remains to be seen what Vince Velasquez will do tonight, but it’s a crime the Phillies are 1-2 in their three games against Boston this year. The pitching has been amazing, and yet, they’re losing. But here’s the good news.

In order for the Phils to break this losing streak, in order for them to make up ground on Atlanta, the offense doesn’t need to be phenomenal. They don’t need to be a top-10 unit. They don’t need to average 6 or 7 runs a game, although that certainly would be nice.

The Phillies simply need to be an average offensive ballclub. The need to be less streaky. They need to have four or five guys making solid contact at a time.

That’s all. Just average. Aspire to average.

Their 29.9% hard-hit rate is dead last in baseball, according to Fangraphs, and their line drive rate of 20.0% is 3rd-worst. That’s one of the reasons they’re 2nd-to-last in doubles (172) and overall hits (927). They do hit a fair number of home runs (137, tied for 15th), but there are times when it’s the only way they score.

Of course, this was the way the team was set up. They walk a lot and try to get enough guys on base to hit the three-run home run. Unfortunately, they aren’t getting many guys in scoring position this season. According to Fangraphs, the Phillies have had 1064 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Only five teams have had fewer. Their .242 average in those situations is 23rd out of 30 teams, the bottom-third of the league.

In the second half, Rhys Hoskins has a team-high 167 wRC+, with a .256/.373/.651 slash line and 9 home runs. However, before hitting a dinger for the Phils’ lone run last night, he had gone through a 1-for-28 stretch. Odubel Herrera is hitting .244/.314/.397 in the 2nd half, with just 3 homers. Cesar Hernandez is batting .220/.340/.317. Carlos Santana is slashing .233/.340/.384.

Of course, it’s important to note this is one of the youngest teams in baseball and, Nick Williams (.302/.355/.523) and Maikel Franco (.302/.326/.535) are hitting well in the second half. The team is also expected to welcome Wilson Ramos to the ballclub in time for tonight’s finale against Boston. His .800+ OPS should help.

The Phillies pitching staff has been outstanding this year, and it continues to be against the best competition in the league. If Hoskins, Herrera, Santana and Hernandez play at levels their career averages would indicate, and if newcomers like Asdrubal Cabrera and Ramos can provide some actual production, they can do it.

The Phillies cannot win the NL East if their offense hits like this. They just need to upgrade from awful to average in order to contend.

Easier said than done.