The Philadelphia Phillies are an imperfect being. Yes, they’ve been that way for pretty much their entire existence. But every baseball fan/watcher knows that the recent vintage of the Fightins is kind of a top-heavy outfit, that generally plays defense like it’s just about to sneeze, and the bullpen is going to get a little funny. It’s still jarring to see, though, after last fall’s heroics. Which is why playoff baseball is not to be trusted.
The Phillies got shut out by Kodai Senga last night in Queens, which dropped them to four games under .500, and in fourth place in the NL East. They’re 23rd in runs, 19th in on-base percentage, and 19th in team wRC+. For a team that’s spending $115 million just on the first five spots in the lineup, this isn’t how it was drawn up.
Most fingers are being pointed at this winter’s shiny new toy, Trea Turner. Turner was supposed to provide something different at the top of the lineup, which was a lot more contact than the K-prone rest of the lineup, an on-base weapon to be around to be driven in by the swole behemoths behind him, as well as adding a dash of speed that could create his own runs at times.
None of that has happened. Fangraphs broke it down pretty heavily, and basically, Turner is swinging at everything while making less contact, which has ballooned his strikeouts. He’s also hitting far more in the air, which can be a good thing, but not when you’re popping up a lot of fastballs to the infield. Turner would hardly be the first person to struggle at first carrying his first big contract and the expectations that come with it, but the metrics don’t look very promising.
It isn’t just the new guy
But Turner isn’t the only reason the Phils’ offense has got mud in the tires. J.T. Realmuto has been decidedly average as well. He’s another who’s seen his walks drop and his contact suddenly get a little squishy. Realmuto has been buried by fastballs, unable to turn them around as violently as he once did. (His average exit velocity has dropped three points this season, and slugging has dropped 166 points on fastballs.) And there’s an inkling that he’s beginning to cheat to get to heaters, because his whiff rate on offspeed pitches has jumped frighteningly (12 percentage points).
And of course, there’s Kyle Schwarber. But this is his thing, where he kind of muddles along for the season’s first two months, and then in June he turns into the Hulk’s big brother (.760 slugging in June ‘21, .680 slugging in June ‘22). Philly was probably counting on this.
Positively, Bryce Harper has only played for a month, and he’s hit since he came back. They clearly miss Rhys Hoskins, as Alec Bohm and Edmundo Sosa on the corners have been…well, Alec Bohm and Edmundo Sosa on the corners.
It’s hard to believe that Turner will continue to be this bad, and there’s a Schwarber binge coming that should even things out. Realmuto is a little more worrisome, as he’s a catcher in his early 30s and sometimes they just turn odd colors in the sun after 8,000 innings in a crouch, as Realmuto has spent.
The Phillies rotation has been wonky past Zack Wheeler
Perhaps just as worryingly is that the rotation has been pretty wonky past Zack Wheeler. Taijuan Walker has been a gasoline fight (5.57 ERA). Aaron Nola has watched his Ks dip as his fastball has lost some juice and he’s pivoted to using a cutter more often. But the latter is doing him no favors as hitters are teeing off on it to the tune of a .588 slugging. Ranger Suarez has only made four starts and has been speed bagged for the most part, and they’re making it up beyond that. And as it is Phillie tradition, the bullpen can’t find the strike zone with a team of hounds and is laughably tossing out Craig Kimbrel in front of their usually so-understanding fanbase on the reg.
But this is what they do. They’ll probably surge through the summer and make one trade for a starter to even out the rotation. This was a third-place team last year, and while a hot couple weeks in October kind of shaded that fact, it’s still kind of a third-place team now. What might be a nuisance is if the Marlins’ pitching can keep them afloat long enough to keep the Phillies in 4th, or if that Diamondbacks thing out west is real that will deny them the last wildcard they sort of stumbled into last season.
Circle back when the swamp-ass Philadelphia summer air turns Citizens Bank Park into a fireworks factory. It’s what the Phillies are banking on.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate if you can weed through the Jesus freaks.
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