We were all flying high in hot summer eve, August 8th. The Phillies had beaten the Mets, swept them in fact, to move into first place in the National League East division. The ace of the staff channeled the former ace and delivered a game for the ages. Their hated rivals from Queens were sinking fast, Citizens Bank Park was packed to the brim and everyone was on cloud nine. It was a feeling that hadn’t been felt in some time: hope.
It is a ludicrous thing to say aloud, but on Sunday, thousands of people floated out of Citizens Bank Park with new memories. They believed again, and it didn’t matter if they could not explain it.
Fast forward to today. The Phillies have just been embarrassed by the lowly Diamondbacks, getting swept right out of Arizona and doing so with their tails firmly tucked between their legs, the thrashing put upon them fully earned. They’re heading to San Diego, still in the hunt for a playoff position, be it by winning the division or the second wild card. Things can turn around quickly, but to understand how they have gotten here, we have to look back at the carnage that has been foisted on the fanbase.
Let’s begin with the offense. During the eight game winning streak, it felt like everyone was hot at the same time. All of the stars - Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins - were hitting the ball and they were scoring runs. The numbers back this feeling up. As a team, they were hitting .289/.347/.554 with 16 home runs in that stretch. For those of you that had trouble with the new math, that’s averaging two home runs a game. In the nine games since? That offense has simply vanished.
That is a frightening drop in production. They aren’t hitting for power, contact, anything. They aren’t getting on base at all. It’s seemingly impossible for every single player to go stone cold at the same time, but here we are. Harper, it seems, is still the one who is hitting the ball, but even he has fallen victim to the cold touch of futility as he’s only got a .796 OPS during these nine games.
Still, it’s not just the standard numbers that have fallen by the wayside. It’s all of the other numbers that are scary. Through the subjective lens, it looked like the Phillies were hitting everything right on the screws during their winning streak. It also seemed like their plate discipline was top notch, not chasing anything out of the zone and hitting with a confidence that they knew they were going to get a strike and do damage with it. In these nine games, their plate discipline has actually improved (if that’s possible). Instead, their ability to hit the ball with authority has vanished, something that has led to the sweep by Arizona.
Six barrels in nine games seems almost impossible to do. That’s not just one player; that’s an entire team’s worth of barrels. No one - NO ONE - is able to square a ball up right now and when no one can square up a baseball, generating offense is really, really hard.
On the pitching side of things, they have actually been slightly better during the rough stretch than they were during the winning streak. If we can boil everything down to one reason why they were so good during those eight games, well, take a look.
Yessir, it’s easy to win games when opposing hitters have a BABIP just barely above the Mendoza line in the eight consecutive games they won. It’s somehow easy to say that pitching has been the team’s Achilles’ heel this season, but during this run of futility, it hasn’t been their fault. They’ve been the same as they have all year long.
So yes, this stretch of poor play can be blamed entirely on the offense. They simply aren’t hitting the ball and until they snap out of it, they aren’t going to win games. The schedule that they have over the next five days suggests they are going to struggle to score runs as they are facing two of the top pitching teams in the game in San Diego and Tampa Bay, but the Padres have struggled of late. They intentionally chose to put Jake Arrieta on the mound, such is their problem getting innings lately. They haven’t been playing well either, giving other teams a chance to climb back into the wild card race. So while they have a shot, the Phillies need to get this offense going somehow.