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When optimism dies, it dies: Phillies vs. Brewers series preview

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The Phillies are making it really tough to remain positive about their chances

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Milwaukee Brewers
Are more bad times in store for the Phillies as they take on the Brewers?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

I’m normally one of the more optimistic Phillies fans out there. Every season, I talk myself into things going right, and this year was no different. I thought that enough of the “ifs” and “maybes” on the team would go in the Phillies’ favor, and this would be a playoff team.

Recent games - Sunday’s in particular - have gone a long way towards brutally murdering that optimism. Sunday night was one of the worst Phillies games I’ve watched in a while. It featured awful managing, awful pitching, awful fielding, awful mental mistakes, and awful umpiring. Only one of those is out of the Phillies’ control, but I am not filled with confidence that any of the others are going to improve much.

I didn’t expect the Phillies to be a good defensive team, but I also didn’t think they’d be this bad. It goes beyond making errors. It feels like every game there is at least one “A good fielding team makes that play” incident.

The bullpen is better than last year (faint praise alert), and would be more so if Archie Bradley wasn’t hurt. But it’s still been a weak spot, and the team seems hyper-focused on making sure none of the relievers gets used too much. I’m old enough to remember when asking guys to work three consecutive days, or four out of five wasn’t completely taboo.

Joe Girardi has either: Been mandated not to work these guys too much, doesn’t understand that bullpens should be run like meritocracies, or really doesn’t understand that David Hale is not good, and putting him into a game is the equivalent of waving a white flag.

Speaking of Girardi...

I had very high hopes for Girardi, and thus far, he has not fulfilled them. I realize that the team has definite holes, and maybe those are too much for any manager to overcome. But the team has a very good top of the roster. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin are going to give the Phillies a good chance to win almost every time out. And I think the lineup will start clicking and scoring a lot of runs, even given the gaping void at the centerfield position.

But the defense, and the horrid bottom part of the roster - combined with a manager who can’t seem to work around the weaknesses - is going to do this team in.

With that said, the Phillies will now host the Milwaukee Brewers - who currently have the best record in the National League - for a four-game series. Is everyone as excited as I am?

Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 17-11 (First place in National League Central)

The manager

You may remember Craig Counsell as a mediocre utility infielder who bounced around the major leagues for awhile. (Put this in the “something I did not know” category: Baseball Reference says Counsell was worth 5.5 wins above replacement in 2005. I’m not sure why, considering his offensive numbers were good, but nothing special. I guess they were really enamored of his defense that year.)

Counsell has been the manager of the Brewers since 2015, and has one division title and two wild card berths to his credit. You may recall his 2019 Brewers as the team that should have beaten the Nationals in the wild card game, and saved us from watching our division rival win the World Series. Instead, they blew a 3-1 lead in the 8th inning, and we had to deal with a parade in Washington DC. Good work, guys.

The last time they met

The Phillies traveled to Milwaukee for a series in late May 2019 and won two out of three. Rhys Hoskins had a big series with the bat, and as far as I recall, didn’t compound an error in the field by ignoring a player who was running towards home plate.

Injured but undaunted

The Brewers have a lot of injured players. For some teams this is a death knell. For the Brewers, it’s apparently just a flesh wound.

For instance, Christian Yelich, a player who has twice finished in the top two of MVP voting in the past three seasons has just 37 plate appearances, and it hasn’t seemed to slow them down at all.

The best of times for Brewers fans

The Brewers have made the playoffs the past three seasons*. In their first 47 seasons of existence, they made the playoffs just four times. This certainly seems to be the golden age for Brewers fans. Ideally, you’d want your golden age to include a little more playoff success (one playoff series win out of those three appearances), but it’s all relative I suppose.

*It should be noted that the 2020 edition finished in fourth place in their division with a 29-31 record, and the playoff spot was due to the expanded playoff field in the shortened season. Of course, the Phillies weren’t even able to clear that low-set bar.

No escaping the whirlpool of ineptitude

The Phillies’ centerfield situation is so dire, it’s even affected players who didn’t actually sign the team. It was rumored that the Phillies were interested in free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. this past offseason, and even though they didn’t sign him, the Phillies’ centerfield horror show still managed to rub off on him. He’s batting just .189 and a .579 OPS.

To be fair, those numbers are still better than any of the players the Phillies have tried out in center, and he plays good defense, which hasn’t always been the case for the Phillies’ group. On the other hand, they didn’t have to pay extra money to get zero offense from center. The in-house candidates have done that much cheaper.

Quick look at the Brewers’ scheduled starters

After a poor season in 2020, Adrian Houser is off to a solid start this year, although he hasn’t shown much longevity. His last start was his longest, and was the first time he recorded an out past the fifth inning.

Freddy Peralta appears to be putting things together in his fourth season. He was used exclusively as a reliever in 2020, but after being returned to the rotation for 2021, he seems determined to strike out as many batters as possible. He had ten strikeouts in six innings in a start against the Cubs last month.

Brandon Woodruff is entering “best starter nobody’s talking about” status.

Warning: Soon after players reach this status, a lot of people start talking about how nobody talks about him, and he soon becomes talked about too much. I hope that makes sense.

Regardless, Woodruff is really good, and in two career starts at Citizens Bank Park, has yet to allow an earned run. The matchup against Zack Wheeler should be fun to watch.

The Brewers have yet to announce a starter for the third game of the series. I could speculate as to who it will be, but I’d probably be wrong.

Trivia

Last series’ answer: In the Mets’ first game at Citizens Bank Park in 2004, former Phillies Todd Zeile, Ricky Bottalico, and Eric Valent took the field for the Mets. The future Phillie was Ty Wigginton. Philaman was first to identify two of them.

This series’ question: The last series between the Phillies and Brewers began on May 24, 2019. Three pitchers who appeared in that game are currently on the Phillies’ roster. Name all three.

What to expect

  • Bryce Harper will continue to play through it, but it will become apparent that his wrist injury is holding him back.
  • Chase Anderson will build upon his most recent start and deliver six quality innings.
  • Jackie Bradley Jr. will outplay the Phillies’ centerfielders, and there will be a lot of questions as to why they didn’t sign him. (The people asking those questions will conveniently ignore his overall poor season.)

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

At least Ryan Braun is gone. I won’t miss the way he reacted to the boos of Phillies fans by absolutely demolishing their pitching staff.