Phillies fans breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday afternoon after Taijuan Walker and the boys mercifully ended their six-game losing streak with a by-the-books, totally relaxing, thoroughly enjoyable 6-1 victory over the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. The victory kicked off a raucous Sunday afternoon that culminated in a 76ers overtime victory over the Celtics that enabled the city of Philadelphia to gain the last laugh in their sports rivalry weekend against the city of Boston.
So yes, everyone feels a little bit better this morning, and that’s good. This post is not intended to stomp on the momentary bliss we’re all experiencing, although this Tweet from our friends at Battery Power was...
NL East standings heading into Monday's off day pic.twitter.com/bQhbgkMAkT— Kris Willis (@Kris_Willis) May 8, 2023
...a bit of a sobering wake-up call.
Yep, the Phils are already 8 games behind the Braves in the NL East, but they’re not alone. Surprisingly, every other team in the division is under .500, including the Mets. Atlanta looks like the juggernaut of the division, putting themselves in a position to run away with things through the first week of May.
Of course, it’s a long season, and the Phillies should be comforted by the fact that many of last year’s postseason teams are riding the struggle bus at the moment:
- San Diego 18-17 (-4 run differential)
- Mets 17-18 (-10)
- Phils 16-19 (-29)
- Cardinals 11-24 (-19)
- Yankees 18-17 (+3)
- Astros 17-17 (+20)
- Mariners 17-17 (+11)
- Guardians 16-18 (-18)
For most of the season, Juan Soto and the Padres haven’t hit at all, and that lineup is even more stacked than the Phils’. The Mets just went 1-5 in two series against the Tigers and Rockies and have a rotation ERA of 5.34. The Cardinals just decided the huge free agent catcher they signed this off-season will no longer play catcher, with everything on that team falling apart. The Yankees and Astros have dealt with injuries, Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez hit his first home run in two weeks on Sunday, and the Guardians are just kind of... well... there.
So take heart, Phillies fans. Misery loves company.
The Phils are only two games behind San Diego for the third wild card and, as we’ve said before, the wild card standings can mostly be ignored until Memorial Day at the earliest. But given the fact we don’t want to give up on the division so soon, here’s a look at the differences between the Phillies and Atlanta following the Phils’ weekend series against the Sox.
The areas of most concern for the Phillies are in two main areas offensively: walk rate and dingers.
The Phils’ walk-rate of 6.9% is second-worst in baseball so far this season. Only the Marlins’ 6.7% is worse. That’s why, despite a .266 batting average that is 6th-best in the Majors, their .322 on-base percentage (OBP) is only tied for 14th. The Phils also can’t expect to maintain their MLB-best .321 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), especially with runners on base.
Last season’s postseason run was littered with huge offensive moments, and almost all of them came on home runs. Same as 2008. So far this season, the Phils have hit 38 home runs, including Saturday night’s first Bryce Harper blast since rejoining the team six games ago.
Trea Turner also went yard on Saturday night, both of which were very good signs. Kyle Schwarber hit his team-leading 8th, a two-run shot that gave the Phils a 4-1 lead. But 35 games into the season, only one of the Phils’ 38 homers have had more than one runner on base. Just one three-run homer so far this year, and no grand slams. It is really hard to sustain offense when you have to group four or five hits together just to scratch out two runs.
Pitching-wise, the starting rotation’s struggles are well-documented by now, with a 4.91 ERA that is 10th-highest in baseball. Taijuan Walker’s six-inning start on Sunday was a step in the right direction, and it sounds like the Phillies have a new plan with the veteran right-hander moving forward. But Bailey Falter’s 0-6 start and 5.75 ERA can’t be allowed to continue much longer, Aaron Nola’s velocity drop and 4.64 ERA is worrisome and Zack Wheeler’s ERA is still a stubbornly high 4.26, although he’s been victimized by a lot of bad luck thus far. With Matt Strahm now officially back in the bullpen, Ranger Suarez’ return to the rotation this week cannot come soon enough.
Their biggest struggles have come with runners on base. The rotation’s 64.3% left-on-base percentage is 2nd-worst in baseball, smack dab between the A’s and Royals. With runners on base, all Phillies pitchers (bullpen included) are allowing a batting average of .273, 6th-highest in baseball, and their 10.03 ERA is 3rd-highest. With the bases empty, Phils’ pitchers are allowing a batting average of .236, 16th in MLB, with a 0.96 ERA that is 8th in baseball.
Last year, before the new rules went into play, Phils’ pitchers allowed a .259 average with runners on base, 14 points lower, with an ERA of 7.76, that was still 9th-worst in baseball. So things were a little better in this area last year, but not monumentally so. Still, figuring out how to minimize the damage when runners get on appears to be a team-wide issue right now, and a huge impediment to avoiding the big inning that seems to bite the starters so frequently.
There are issues to work through and certain weaknesses all teams must deal with (like, outfield defense for example), but this team is too talented to continue languishing below .500. And as we’ve seen around the game, many of the “good” teams aren’t playing “good,” while some of the “bad” teams are playing above their heads.
Thank goodness for the third wild card, huh?