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Two veteran leaders who must perform for the Phillies to reach the playoffs

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If McCutchen and Didi don’t get going, you can kiss the playoffs goodbye.

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Two Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

To say that 2021 has been a frustrating and perplexing season for Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius would be an understatement.

It’s been largely awful for both players, especially as the Phillies try to end a nine-year postseason drought. Offensively, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura have largely held up their end of the bargain, with Harper carrying the team on his shoulders much the same way Ryan Howard did on his way to the 2006 NL MVP award.

But in Monday night’s 2-0 stinker of a defeat at the hands of the 101-loss Baltimore Orioles, McCutchen and Gregorius were unable to come up with the key hit in the evening’s only offensive uprising.

It wasn’t the first time.

A leadoff single by Realmuto went to waste when McCutchen flied out and, after a Matt Vierling single put runners on 1st and 2nd with one out, manager Joe Girardi left Gregorius in the game for the evening’s biggest at-bat to that point. He could have swapped him for Ronald Torreyes (although Torreyes’ .242/.285/.345 slash line this year doesn’t exactly scream, “PUT ME IN COACH!”), but Girardi stuck with the former All Star instead. Gregorius grounded into a force out, which was followed by a lineout by Freddy Galvis to end the inning.

NOT JUST SEPTEMBER STRUGGLES

Girardi’s lineup card had McCutchen hitting 5th. Gregorius was hitting 7th. And given the rest of the players at Girardi’s disposal, it’s hard to argue with his tactics. Nevertheless, McCutchen and Gregorius are getting big at-bats during a pennant race and doing nothing with them.

Here are their statistics over the last 30 days:

McCutchen: .215/.319/.418, wRC+ 99, 3 HRs in 91 PAs

Gregorius: .211/.277/.303, wRC+ 59, 1 HR in 83 PAs

On the season, McCutchen has a .219 batting average and a .763 OPS. Gregorius is batting .213 with a .642 OPS and has been worth 0.0 fWAR this season.

If the Phillies are going to make the playoffs, Cutch and Didi need to get hot right now.

THE HOT AND COLD CUTCH

McCutchen is largely playing everyday, but that’s mostly due to a lack of suitable alternatives. After a red-hot two month stretch in the middle of the season, McCutchen has been an almost automatic out.

May: .787 OPS

June: 1.027 OPS

July: .906 OPS

August: .551 OPS

September: .673 OPS

After hitting 19 home runs from May through July, his power stroke disappeared, with just four dingers over the last six weeks. His OBP the last two months?

.258 and .273.

And yet he’s hitting 5th for a team that is trying to hunt down the Braves for the NL East title. Not ideal.

DIDI’S DISASTROUS 2021

As for Gregorius, it’s been a struggle all season. After signing a two-year, $30 million contract over the winter, he hit .320/.345/.460 through the first two weeks but then hit .162/.205/.294 over his next 18 games before hitting the injured list for nearly two months with a bout of pseudogout in his right elbow. In 60 games since returning from the IL, he’s hit .205/.276/.372.

Since August 10, he’s hit one home run.

Baseball Reference

His batted ball data, hard-hit rate, and plate discipline numbers all look remarkably similar to past seasons, although his swinging strike rate of 12.5% is the highest since his rookie season, but he’s still only striking out 17.4% of the time. He’s just not barrelling anything up this year. His barrel% of 2.2% is a career low, down from 4.2% a year ago and 5.5% in ‘19. His expected batting average, xBA, dropped from .262 last year to .223 this season, although his average exit velocity, according to Fangraphs, is 85.8 mph, up from last year’s 83.8 mph.

Like I said, it’s been weird.

The Phillies were counting on Didi and Alec Bohm to lock down the left side of the infield offensively but Bohm was sent to AAA last month and Gregorius is now part of a three-person platoon with Freddy Galvis and Ronald Torreyes because of his even ghastlier splits against left-handers (.156/.272/.273).

Gregorius blames his lackluster 2021 season on the pseudogout that he believes was caused by his COVID-19 vaccine, a remark that was refuted in the Philadelphia Inquirer article.

TWO WEEKS LEFT

While neither has played stellar defense this season, both did make outstanding plays in key moments in last weekend’s series against the Mets.

And if you’re an optimist, you’re hoping that, over the last two weeks, Gregorius finds the stroke that saw him put up an .827 OPS last year with 10 HRs in 60 games and that McCutchen goes on another red-hot homer rampage like the one he had a couple months ago.

Bryce Harper is doing all he can to carry the Phillies, but without young players coming up from the minors to help, two of his struggling, high-priced teammates need to step up if they’re going to win the National League East.