Phillies' struggles reveal a host of problems

Posted: May 16, 2014

WELL, THE FOLKS from Millville had themselves a nice time. That's a good thing, because they seem like nice people. As for your fightin' Phillies? It's hard to figure out where to start. The past 6 weeks have offered us a thorough look at the holes that, as of today, are preventing most unbiased observers from treating this team as a serious contender. The current losing streak - three games after yesterday's 3-0 loss to the Angels - has served as sort of a tasting menu:

No, the problem isn't listing problems, it's listing solutions.

Problem: Since sweeping the Marlins on April 13 to improve to 6-6, the Phillies are averaging only 3.5 runs per game. They are averaging fewer than three extra-base hits per game with a .235 batting average, .296 on-base percentage, and .355 slugging percentage.

Solution: Change the lineup? OK, let's see what we can come up with. Ben Revere certainly should not be the player in position to garner the most plate appearances, so move him out of the leadoff spot. Jimmy Rollins, followed by Carlos Ruiz, followed by Chase Utley, followed by Marlon Byrd, followed by Ryan Howard. Sound good so far? Look who remains: Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, Revere. Lefty. Lefty. Lefty. All following Howard. Keep playing around with it and tell me whether you find a way to deal with the lefthanded problem.

Problem: Domonic Brown went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts yesterday, dropping his season numbers to the following: .221 average, .282 on-base percentage, .294 slugging percentage, one home run, seven extra-base hits, 26 strikeouts, 136 at-bats.

Solution: Holler if you see one. John Mayberry Jr. has a .138/.286/.276 line this season and a .233/.294/.389 line over the last three seasons. Tony Gwynn? .185/.290/.222 this season, .229/.297/.308 the last four. If Darin Ruf finds a groove down at Triple A Lehigh Valley - he's 21 plate appearances into his rehab stint - manager Ryne Sandberg won't hesitate to use him. But that's still a hypothetical, and probably at least a couple of weeks away from approaching the outer barrier of reality. The Phillies' only option at this point is to hope Brown escapes his funk, because he is the only leftfielder on the roster who has the chance to make a significant difference on the team you are watching.

Problem: Ben Revere's on-base percentage is .284 and he has two extra-base hits in 138 plate appearances.

Solution: I'm not sure what everybody was expecting out of Revere. At this time last year (actually, on May 18), his on-base percentage was .286. But he somehow made you forget about that. Probably because he hit .345/.371/.406 from May 19 through July 13. But who is to say he wasn't about to go into another month-and-a-half long drought? With his lack of power, he is very much subject to the whims of fate, also known as batting average on balls in play. When his ground balls and line drives find holes, he reaches base. When they don't, he doesn't. Marlon Byrd could be an option in centerfield if Sandberg feels as if a Brown-Byrd-Ruf outfield is feasible defensively. Otherwise, I'm all ears.

Problem: The bullpen

Solution: Good luck with that

Problem: Third base

Solution: The impulsive move is to call up Maikel Franco. But has Cody Asche really received enough of an opportunity to say definitively he is not an everyday major league player? Besides, chances are, the move might not accomplish anything except replacing one raw player with another. One year ago, Franco was playing A ball.

The simple truth is that there are no solutions at this point. The Phillies might seem maddening in their inconsistency, but that's how substandard teams look. I'm starting to believe that the Theory of Baseball states that, in order to contend, a team must have at least two really good units among the offense, the rotation and the bullpen. Really good, as in, not average, and certainly not below. The Phillies have a rotation. But after A.J. Burnett's appearance yesterday, they have lost the last six games started by Burnett, Cliff Lee, or Cole Hamels, and eight of the last nine such games. Because the offense is average-to-below, and the bullpen is one of the worst in the league.

Yesterday's result was very much a product of the opposing pitcher. Garrett Richards, a 25-year-old righty who split time between the bullpen and the rotation in his first 3 years in the majors, has been dominant in his first eight starts of the season. Against the Phillies, he showed a fastball that sat consistently around 95 to 96 mph, with two breaking pitches he threw consistently for strikes. Sometimes, good teams get beat by good pitchers. The Phillies happened to get beat by a good one less than 24 hours after getting beat by a mediocre one. That isn't a good formula.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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