Phillies’ Hopes Dashed, Despair Reigns

Cliff Lee will be pitching for the Phillies tonight.That feel-good five-game winning streak that put the Phillies a game over .500 at 31-30 feels like so long ago. The team had salvaged the last game of the three-game home series against the Brewers, then swept the Marlins and took the first of the four-game series against the Brewers in Milwaukee. Finally, the Phillies were showing a bit of consistency and had gotten on something of a roll. Fans and media were wondering if this was “it.” Whoops.

In the second game of the series in Milwaukee, the Phillies jumped out to a 4-0 lead with Cliff Lee on the hill. A six-game winning streak and 32-30 record looked likely. Then both Lee and the Phillies’ bats did their best impersonation of Game 2 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. The Brewers cut the lead in half in the bottom of the 4th, before tying it in the bottom of the 7th thanks to a leadoff walk that was followed by a Jean Segura triple (he scored on a throwing error by Freddy Galvis). In the bottom of the 8th, Michael Stutes relieved Lee and got the first two outs. Charlie Manuel called on Jeremy Horst to get the final out. After a scoreless top of the 9th, Manuel opted to stick with Horst in the bottom of the 9th because, I guess, it wasn’t a save situation. Jonathan Papelbon had last pitched three days earlier, so it couldn’t have been an issue of fatigue. Manuel’s refusal to use his best reliever unless it’s a save opportunity, regardless of the situation’s leverage, remains a key flaw (one of the many) in his managerial style. It’s bad enough the Phillies are paying Papelbon $12M a year, but to pitch him so sparingly (and selectively) decreases an already minimal ROI. Of course, Horst gave up three straight hits, including the game-winning single to Aramis Ramirez. Even more insulting is that Manuel put Papelbon in for the 9th inning of the next day’s game, with the Phillies down 8-1. Hey, had to get him some work, right? Ever since blowing that 4-0 lead, the Phillies have been in an unshakable funk, putting up run totals of 3, 1, 2, 3 against the following starters: Tom Gorzelanny, Kyle Lohse, P.J. Walters, Mike Pelfrey (yes, the same Mike Pelfrey this team routinely destroyed when he was with the Mets). Just a friendly reminder that despite putting up at least 6 runs in a four-game stretch during the winning streak for the first time since 2010 (not a misprint), the Phillies’ offense still sucks and sits bottom-third (24th) in MLB.

So, what’s the issue with the offense? Well, for starters, not having a single legit power hitter aside from Domonic Brown, who just started showing that power over the last three weeks. You know what never ceases to amuse me? How “analysts” — well, the local media and those lapdog types employed by CSN Philly, really — are absolutely flabbergasted that Ryan Howard‘s decline has been so pronounced. You mean to tell me a guy whose closest historical comparable — both in terms of body type and career performance — is, say, Cecil Fielder or Mo Vaughn, hasn’t aged gracefully? Shocking. It’s almost as bad as when people refer to bashing the Howard extension as “hindsight,” despite the number of articles written — opinions shared by fans, too — at the time warning of the immense risk and foretelling this disaster.

Then there’s the simple fact that Michael Young is the team-leader in OBP at  .352 (for context, the Red Sox team average OBP is .351). Yes, the same Michael Young who didn’t learn to take a walk until this season leads this team in OBP and is currently hitting leadoff. What respectable baseball team puts Michael Young in the leadoff spot? Chase Utley, who’s on the DL, is second at .339, and Jimmy Rollins is third at .328. The Phillies’ team OBP of .303 ranks 23rd, .14 below MLB average and .11 below NL average. It’s not merely a coincidence that the teams with the best records in baseball — St. Louis, Boston, Cincinnati — rank 3rd, 1st and 4th in OBP. In fact, of the top 13 teams in baseball record-wise, only Atlanta (15th), New York Yankees (21st) and Pittsburgh (22nd) rank outside the top-10 in OBP. And those three rank 2nd, 9th and 3rd, respectively, in total ERA, and 2nd, 12th and 4th in bullpen ERA (the Phillies rank 19th in total ERA and 28th in bullpen ERA). As the best teams in baseball will tell you, OBP is king. Ruben Amaro and his front office comrades have forgotten — or simply ignored — that in recent seasons, and you’re seeing the oversight manifested on the field. It’s not like the OBP deficiency from this lineup was unpredictable, either. In fact, it was very predictable. Oh, and as the Braves, Yankees and Pirates are proving, if your lineup doesn’t boast a high OBP, your pitching better be able to pick up the slack. The Phillies are struggling in both departments.

Tonight, the 31-35 Phillies look to halt a five-game losing streak by, once again, salvaging the final game of a three-game set against an under-.500 team in Minnesota. By the way, in case you were wondering, they’re now 17-30 against teams that aren’t the Marlins or Mets. I thought about discussing Ruben Amaro’s cringe-worthy, frighteningly delusional interview with CSN Philly regarding the state of the Phillies, but then I decided against giving myself an aneurysm. As long as he’s at the controls, this will be a middling-to-bad baseball team with very little hope for the future.

 

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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.