2013 Phillies: First Month is in the Books

This Ben Revere catch has been one of the highlights of the season so far for the Phillies.I was home for the weekend during the Cardinals series and attended the 5-0 loss on Saturday, April 20, when the Phillies mustered a meager three hits and did their very best to murder the game of baseball. It was a chilly, windy night, and pretty early on you could tell the Phillies’ bats were going to remain silent throughout. Cliff Lee was on the mound, but immediately it was apparent this wouldn’t be a start where he hummed along at a brisk pace and mowed down the opposing lineup. He lasted just 5 innings, surrendering 7 hits, 3 walks and 5 earned runs. More than a few times, as the Phillies put together terrible at bat after terrible at bat, my friend, Cary (same one from the previous article), turned to me and said, “tape and bubblegum.”

“Tape and bubblegum” has become something of a motif to describe this season’s Phillies team (and last season’s) between that same friend and myself. It encapsulates the totality of what’s been going on in recent years. We feel that Ruben Amaro, and the organization as a whole, has created a precarious situation for the Phillies that is only delaying the inevitable while the rest of the division and league passes them by. It’s not an enviable position for Amaro, as he’s trying to walk the tightrope of sustaining the franchise’s most glorious era by slapping together a roster primarily composed of veteran spare parts to complement aging cornerstones. (The Phillies are baseball’s version of the current Boston Celtics.) Michael Young has been a welcomed addition at the plate, if not the field, and perhaps Delmon Young can give the lineup a jolt. Yes, Amaro has also tried to infuse youth with the acquisition of Ben Revere (more on him later) and continuing to steadfastly champion the cause of Domonic Brown, who we’re still not sure can be anything more than a replacement level player. His performance to this point has been uneven, much like the rest of his career. At what point do we stop tiptoeing around the issue and acknowledge that Brown might not be the player the Phillies anticipated? Spring training was so encouraging, he looked like he’d finally figure it out. I’m still holding out hope, but I have serious doubts about whether he can ever put it all together and deliver. Then, as previously mentioned, there’s Ben Revere, who has a nice glove in CF but is utterly useless at the plate. I mean, he’s got to be the worst-hitting everyday player in MLB, right? He has to be. A .456 OPS?! Are you kidding me? Not even Michael Martinez is that bad with the stick! But, um, he’s fast.

It feels as if the Phillies are stuck in something resembling baseball purgatory, mired between the desire to make one last final run at a World Series championship and blowing up the whole thing and starting over. With the first month of the season ending on a major dud — Doc from spring training and first few starts alert! — thanks to a 14-2 drubbing at the hands of the Indians after a maybe-things-will-be-ok sweep of the Mets (if only we could play the Mets all the time), the Phillies stands at 12-15, third place in the NL East and 5.5 games behind the division-leading Braves. Kyle Kendrick is the starting staff’s best pitcher at the moment (1.3 WAR), while Cliff Lee is the only member of the once-Big-Three carrying his weight. The team has lost two-thirds (!) of the games started by Hamels, Lee and Halladay; the bullpen remains an unreliable mess; the offense is uninspiring, having scored 4 runs or less in 19 of 27 games. I want to feel optimistic about the Phillies as true contenders, but I can’t shake the feeling that, even at its peak, this team will be one that hovers around the .500 mark. As for the three centerpieces of the lineup: Chase Utley has returned to form, Jimmy Rollins is the same (for better or worse), and Ryan Howard, despite his .284 average and RBI total of 16, has just 3 HR and a .760 OPS (.463 SLG) with 3 BB  (.297 OBP) and 24 K — he is, without question, steadily continuing his marked decline.

The car is stuck in neutral, slowly shifting into reverse. Big tree fall hard, and without a bushel of prime talent (save for Jesse Biddle)  in the farm system that’s nearly ready, it feels like there will be some lean years ahead. We’re teetering on the edge, ready to fall off. Sports is cyclical in nature, and the Phillies are at end of what’s been a wonderful cycle of success. The writing has been on the wall, but the main problem is those who make the player personnel decisions refuse to acknowledge it. Perhaps this group can get hot and gear up for a magical ride, but where’s the encouraging evidence? I don’t think this team is bad, per se, but I also don’t think it’s good. Again, it’s a middling outfit, and that’s certainly not good enough. Hopefully the Phillies can turn it around, but, damn, I can’t get over these premonitions of impending doom. My Negadelphia side is showing through.

Some numbers…

Record when Cole Hamels, Lee and Roy Halladay start: 6-13 (edited to include loss to Indians on May 1)

Record when Kendrick, John Lannan and Jonathan Pettitbone start: 6-3

Innings pitched by bullpen: 71.1 (4th-least in MLB)

Number of games lost by the bullpen: 6 (tied for 4th-worst in MLB)

Total ERA: 4.47 (26th in MLB)

Bullpen ERA: 4.67 (4th-worst in MLB)

Bullpen OPS against: .783 (3rd-worst in MLB)

Runs scored: 100 (23th in MLB)

Batting average: .249 (16th in MLB)

Team OBP: .302 (25th in MLB)

Team SLG%: .387 (22nd in MLB)

Record vs. teams that are not the Mets and Marlins: 5-14 (edited to include loss to Indians on May 1)

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Dan Klausner

Dan grew up in Lower Merion and has been an avid Philly sports fan for as long as he can remember. His first sports memory is of attending a Flyers/Devils game with his father at the Spectrum in 1995, while his two most cherished in-person memories are of 4th & 26 and Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. Dan graduated from the University of Maryland in May 2010 and started his own blog in December of that year, before being brought on board to write for SB Nation Philly and Bleeding Green Nation (author bio), one of the Internet's foremost Eagles blogs, in June 2011. In early April 2013, he joined The High Phive team as a Phillies writer.