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Phillies observations from a dispiriting May

Still waiting for them to wake up.

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

When the Phillies finally reached the postseason and embarked on a thrill-ride of a run to the World Series last year, most of us believed they had fully detached the 500-pound gorilla off their backs and were ready to be consistent winners.

Guess not.

After their 4-1 loss to the Mets in New York last night, the Phils finished the month of May with a 10-16 record, dropping them to 25-30 overall. They are 5-11 in their last 16 games and 10-17 in their last 27, languishing in 4th place in the NL East, 7.5 games behind the first place Braves.

Thankfully, the National League is filled with parity thus far, with no team more than 5.5 games out of a wild card spot, but the Phillies have looked nothing resembling a good baseball team.

While the offense has garnered most of the negative attention (which will be addressed momentarily), the starting rotation was abysmal last month. Phils’ starters posted a 5.83 ERA, 2nd-worst in baseball, albeit with a 4.34 FIP that perhaps indicates some of the pitchers should have seen better results. They were the worst staff in dealing with runners on base, posting a league-worst 61.9% left-on-base percentage that matches the eye test.

Whenever it seemed like opponents had an opportunity to score on the Phils, they did.

Nola led the team with six starts and 38.1 innings pitched, but it was a continuation of his April struggles, with a 4.93 ERA and 4.85 FIP. Last night’s six-inning, four-run effort was typical of his No. 4 starter-like performances thus far in which he looks outstanding for large stretches only to be done in by mistake pitches at almost every turn. Wheeler’s 3.34 ERA shows signs he’s coming around, and Ranger Suarez can only hope to build off of Tuesday’s encouraging outing against New York. Taijuan Walker has pitched better of late too, with that 6.11 May ERA stemming mostly from his ghastly outing in Los Angeles at the beginning of the month.

The search for a fifth starter continues, with Dylan Covey and Matt Strahm clearly not the answers. Perhaps we’ll soon see the return of Bailey Falter to the big league rotation...

...because what are the alternatives, really? Of course, the No. 5 starter situation could be mitigated if the other four guys do their jobs better.

As for the offense, it’s been a disaster.

Their .681 May OPS was 25th, as was their .308 OBP. They hit .234 as a team, and slugged just 23 homers last month, third-fewest in baseball. Not only are they not hitting home runs in general, they still cannot generate power with men on base. Alec Bohm’s three-run homer back on April 10 is their lone dinger with two men on, and they still have just one grand slam this season, from Kyle Schwarber a couple weeks ago. As noted by NBC Sports’ Corey Seidman last night, the Phils have hit 56 home runs this season and 34 have been solo shots.

Only two players were above average, offensively, according to wRC+.

Raise your hand if you thought the best offensive performer for May was going to be Kody Clemens.

As noted by Seidman, J.T. Realmuto is 3-for-his-last37 with 11 strikeouts, one extra-base hit and no RBI. In the three weeks prior to that, he hit .367. Trea Turner has hit .193/.231/.348 in his last 38 games. And Kyle Schwarber’s nightmare 2023 season continues unabated. We are fully two months into the season, and Schwarber has played 54 games. He has 31 hits.

Among 164 qualified players, only two players have fewer hits this season:

  • Joey Wiemer (29)
  • Triston Casas (28)

Schwarber is now batting .163 through the season’s first two months and hit .115 last month, a completely unacceptable number even in an age when batting average doesn’t mean as much. Turner has the lowest OPS among any of the Phils’ regulars, an incomprehensible, Steve Jeltz-like .651 for the season. It was .625 in May.

Bryce Harper has been good since he’s returned, the only other regular with above average offensive numbers in May, but the power stroke has understandably been slow to return, and it’s unfair to ask a guy who returned early from off-season Tommy John surgery to strap the team on his back.

As a whole, the Phillies continues to be wildly undisciplined at the plate, swinging at 34.9% of pitches out of the strike zone, second-most in baseball and the highest percentage for any Phillies offense since that stat began being tracked in 2002. They also have the highest swinging strike percentage (12.3%) of any Phillies team during that timeframe.

No walks. Fewer guys on base. No power. Bad starting pitching.

Can you imagine if the bullpen wasn’t at least competent? It hasn’t been lights out, with a 4.34 ERA that was tied with the Braves for 15th, but much of that is due to a few blowup innings. For the most part, the relievers, particularly Craig Kimbrel, have acquitted themselves well in Jose Alvarado’s absence.

I know everyone is hoping and, dare I say, planning on a June power surge from Schwarber to fix everything, and it certainly is reasonable to believe he, and the rest of these established stars, will figure things out. But the honest truth is there is simply no one playing “well” at the moment, and it is extremely difficult to watch this team play baseball right now.

Maybe one day this team will figure out how to play well in the first two months of the season.