We as fans crave instant analysis. We devour post-draft grades in whatever sport is picking teenagers or college players as future members of their team, we want a winner or loser in any trade that is made between two teams and on and on. It’s part of our nature, needing to know whether or not we need to be angry at something or if we should rejoice in the result. Usually, here at The Good Phight, we try to steer people away from this type of reactionary analysis. Baseball is a game of sample size, something we should always be reminding ourselves as we watch and even in a Covid-shortened season, we are going to have to let these things play out before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. So usually, we will ask you to wait a day or two, a game or a series, before making your own conclusions about the team and how they will fare in the season to come.
Today isn’t that day.
After losing a series to the Marlins, a team ravaged over the weekend by positive tests for Covid-19, the Phillies all of a sudden look very vulnerable right now to letting the season slip away. Let’s look at three things that stood out.
1. Vince Velasquez may not be the answer
It seems yet again that the team has fallen victim to the Velasquez siren song. On an afternoon where the team jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead thanks to the thunder of Harper striking the Marlins’ starter, Velasquez and his newfound stuff gave it back just as quickly. It was yet another disappointing start in a career full of them while Velasquez has toed the rubber here in Philadelphia. It is never a case of a lack of talent when it comes to Velasquez - that part has never been questioned. But outside of that one magical outing in his first season with the team against San Diego (you know the one), it has almost always been a case of “how frustrating will this start be today?” when he gets on the mound.
In this season where every game is magnified and the need to win as many games as possible, the leash for players to maybe work on some things should get shorter. The team has given Velasquez a lot of time here in Philadelphia and he has yet to put it all together in one season that reflects the talent that he still possesses. With Sunday’s outing, the questions about Velasquez’s hold on a spot in the rotation have already begun. Asked postgame point blank if Velasquez would make his next start, manager Joe Girardi said, “It’s really important that he bounces back...oh yeah, Vince will make his next start.” Even as Spencer Howard also started on Sunday in Lehigh Valley in the taxi squad game, Girardi didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement as to what Velasquez’s future would be, but again: “That’s not something that I am aware of as of right now, so my plan is Vince will make his next start and we’ll go from there.”
It’s not like Velasquez doesn’t feel it either. Post game, he was pretty honest about his performance. “I lost command of my fastball in that second inning after hitting Anderson right in the back,” he said when asked about his game. In the face of fan reaction that has been....critical, he’s handled himself completely professionally during his tenure here. He continued to do so after the game, talking about how this spring/summer, “I came a long ways to earn my spot.” It’s hard to forget the time he was so brutally honest about himself and how badly we felt for him at the time, but on the other hand: we want the team to win. If Velasquez can’t put his team in a position to do that, it might be time to look elsewhere for someone who can.
2. The bullpen is not that good and help doesn’t appear to be on the way
The weakness that is the bullpen heading into this season seems to be rearing its ugly head. Sunday’s performance by the bullpen wasn’t exactly one to instill confidence either. Talking about the bullpen and how it has been so far, whether changes have to be made, Girardi said this, “We’ll probably have discussions.....[and] try to get the most out of these guys and improve what we’ve done so far.”
Those discussions may need to get accelerated.
Putting the starter’s performance aside, the rest of the pitchers in the game amassed a line of six innings, nine hits, seven runs and only four strikeouts against a Marlins lineup that wasn’t supposed to be one of the titans of the National League. Now, as they head into a home-and-home against the Yankees, the talent level of the bullpen has a chance to get exposed very, very quickly. Looking around for help, too, may not be something that gets done. The group Girardi and company brought with them to start the season are the ones that they felt were the best at having a chance to be get the most amount of outs. If that’s how they feel about this group, what are their thoughts on those that they left behind? We can’t know that for sure, but it doesn’t exactly feel encouraging. It’s early still (yes, even in a 60 game season), but the bullpen as a group cannot afford more performances like the one they had Sunday. Hopefully, the turnaround comes sooner rather than later.
3. That’s a lot of runners left on base
Power was never really in doubt with this team. Six home runs in three games was kind of expected with a team that has Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, and other in the lineup, so a surge of power is something that we should be getting used to.
Pitch selection is also not a problem. Rhys Hoskins has seven walks already. 19 walks as a team shows that they are going to be patient, waiting for a pitch that they can do some damage with. (Either that, or the Marlins’ pitching staff has some serious command issues they need to resolve.)
But runners left on base? Yikes.
The Phillies over the weekend left twenty-six men on base.
That’s the type of thing that makes managers’ hair follicles suddenly start to weaken. During the entire series, it kind of felt that the team was trying to do too much, swinging through pitches that they shouldn’t be missing. We cannot know what is going through a hitter’s mind as they bat with men on base, but that dreaded word of “pressing” seemed quite applicable to the bats against Miami. It could be some early season jitters, more likely a timing issue that more at bats will help with, but it was one thing that stood out while watching them on offense. It’s probably also the least of the team’s problems this early in the season, but so early in the season, 2020 felt an awful lot like watching the offense from 2018-19.