Try as they might, Philadelphia just can’t seem to crack Miami — a team that boasts a ridiculously poor 32-49 record. In fact, over the course of their last five meetings, all of which the Phillies have lost, the Marlins have outscored them, 28-16.
So, what in the world is a competitive ball club like Philadelphia doing dropping games to the worst team in the National League?
Let’s find out:
Coming into the 2019 season, the Phillies were the team to beat in terms of plate discipline.
With guys like Rhys Hoskins (1), Andrew McCutchen (3), and Bryce Harper (32) heading up the pitch-per-plate-apperance (PPA) leaderboards, it seemed like this Phillies lineup would proficiently grind even the most reputable starting pitchers out of the game by the 6th inning — and, for a time, the offense did just that.
Through their first 11 games of the season, no pitcher exceeded 5.2 innings of work against the Fightin’s lineup — that is, until Jeremy Hellickson tossed 6 innings exactly in an embarrassing 15-1 loss to the Nationals on April 10th.
Unfortunately, after the Phillies lost Andrew McCutchen to a heartbreaking ACL tear, their plate discipline all but disintegrated.
In the loss against the Marlins on June 28th, Miami’s lineup out-grinded Philadelphia’s. Yes, you read that properly — a Marlins lineup full of young, inexperienced, and eager hitters, saw more pitches than the supposed ‘grindiest’ lineup in baseball. The Fish forced Vince Velasquez to exit the game after just 4.1 innings of work, and ultimately took a 6-2 win — in which the Marlins saw 146 pitches, while the Phillies saw 137.
This Philadelphia lineup was founded upon the idea of advanced plate discipline. It was structured in a way that each and every batter would be a pain in the you-know-what to face, one after the other. In fact, a plate-patient strategy should absolutely dominate a pitching core like Miami’s, the bulk of which suffers from location and control issues. So why wouldn’t the Phillies capitalize on that exact weakness?
I wish I could tell you.
The Phillies’ bullpen, in its current iteration, is a travesty.
It is June 30th. David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Pat Neshek, and others, remain on the Injured List.
The back-end of the bullpen has been decimated by injuries in 2019, and, the supposed relief that was to be brought on via the return of guys like Tommy Hunter, Edubray Ramos, and Adam Morgan, is nowhere to be found.
In fact, it was the tandem of Juan Nicasio and Adam Morgan that single-handedly ruined the Phillies’ chance at winning Saturday’s heartbreaker against Miami. The day before that, it was Jose Alvarez who led the Phils astray after he allowed 2, ‘nail-in-the-coffin,’ runs in the 7th inning of Friday’s loss.
This bullpen has deteriorated to the point in which we turn to Juan Nicasio, Adam Morgan, and Jose Alvarez in ‘setup’ situations — this is what we’ve become.
Of course, injuries happen, and it’s something the team has to fight through, but boy, does this bullpen need some help.
Underestimating the Opponent:
Above all else, THIS is the primary reason the Phillies are dropping meaningful games to the worst team in all of the National League.
The Marlins are currently ahead of the Phillies in their ‘Season Series,’ in which Philadelphia is trailing 5-7. Conversely, the Braves, who lead the National League East, are 8-1 against Miami this year.
So, this being the case, where in the world is this team’s sense of urgency?
The Phillies swept the Mets in four games on four stellar come-from-behind wins, and yet, when Miami steals a lead from them, the bats go deafeningly silent.
Pitchers enter the game thinking that they can simply switch to cruise control and get by, somehow not knowing that this Marlins team has the ability to play some brutal small ball, and can tally runs quickly.
To make matters even worse, our starting pitchers are being tugged prematurely for no apparent reason, other than this team thinking they’ve already sealed the game.
Last week, Vince Velasquez soared through 5 innings of work on 57 pitches, surrendering one singular hit to Miami — and was tugged while the Phillies were ahead 3-1. Velasquez could very well have been on a pitch count that particular day, BUT, he went on to toss 84 pitches in his very next outing. Why be so quick to tug him after such a minuscule amount of work?
It was, in fact, Velasquez’ early tugging that induced the team’s undoing, as Adam Morgan entered that same game in the 7th, and promptly served up 3 runs, causing the Phillies to fall by a score of 5-3.
Zach Eflin, who was being hit relatively hard, but only sat at 89 pitches after the 6th inning in Saturday’s game, was not even given the opportunity to START the 7th inning. Instead, he was substituted for Juan Nicasio, who, as previously mentioned, ruined the Phillies’ preexisting 6-3 lead, and Philadelphia fell once more, 9-6.
These instances become especially relevant when you take into account that Miami’s closer, Sergio Romo, is 16-for-17 in save opportunities in 2019. If they carry a lead into the 9th, it’s likely they’ll cling onto it.
Had the Phillies NOT lost their last 5 games against the Marlins, they would be just 1.5 games back of Atlanta for the lead in the National League East.
Instead, they are sitting at a whopping 6.5 game deficit, and will attempt to do what they can to gain some ground on their Eastern rivals prior to the All-Star break, which begins July 8th.
Once again, we see the exceeding importance in taking advantage of bad teams throughout a division race — something the Phillies have struggled to do since the dawn of time.