Results tagged ‘ offense ’
Ryan Howard takes the heat, but Chase Utley is struggling worse than Howard through the Phillies’ first seven games. In fact, this is the worst start of Utley’s career through the team’s first seven games.
“It’s just a matter of time with Chase,” Ryne Sandberg said after yesterday’s 2-0 loss to the Mets. “I have no worries there. He gets quality at-bats. Chase will be fine. We just need to create some opportunities with men on base for those guys in the middle of the lineup.”
I’m not sure if Sandberg is saying Utley and Howard are struggling because the No. 1 and 2 hitters aren’t getting on base enough, but that should not affect Utley or Howard at the plate that much. Will Utley be better than he has been? Yes, although he has not homered since Aug. 10. It is the longest homerless drought of his career, stretching to 175 at-bats. But he posted a 1.297 OPS in Spring Training, so he was swinging the bat well recently.
Is he the only reason the Phillies are struggling offensively? Absolutely not. But he is a big reason why the team has scored just 16 runs in seven games.
Sandberg said he is not considering any significant changes to the lineup. I think that could come in time, but seven games into the season is not the time to bump Utley and Howard. I know nobody likes to hear this, but a big part of managing is managing people. You don’t take two long-time Phillies and in one day move them out of the spots they have been hitting their entire careers. They deserve a little more time. How much time? I’m not sure, but certainly more than seven games.
They received strong starting pitching performances in four of six games. The pitching staff as a whole has a 3.38 ERA, which is 11th in baseball. They showed some fight as Ryne Sandberg said following today’s 4-3 loss in 10 innings to the Nationals. The Phillies overcame a seventh-inning deficit to win Friday, an eighth-inning deficit to win in 10 innings Saturday and tied the game in the seventh inning yesterday. They gave up two runs in the 10th, but made things interesting with a run scored in the bottom of the inning.
But the gigantic red flag that flapped in the wind in Clearwater, Fla., planted itself at home plate in Philadelphia:
The Phillies are 28th in baseball with a .563 OPS, a percentage point or two ahead of the Mets (.563) and Twins (.515). They have scored just 16 runs in six games. Only the Twins (13) and Nationals (13) have scored fewer. They have hit just two home runs. Only the Twins (1) and Marlins (1) have hit fewer.
Everybody knew the offense would be an issue, which is why we have seen Sandberg use six lineups in seven games (including today’s game). He is searching for a winning combination, trying to find decent match ups and hot bats whenever they are available, although it will be interesting to see how he balances what is supposed to be a developmental year with his desire to win that night’s game. For example, he benched Cody Asche on Friday and Saturday for Andres Blanco. Sandberg said he liked the spark Blanco provided, but the Phillies should want to give Asche as many opportunities to play as possible this season. He could be part of the Phillies’ future, either at third base, left field or wherever. Blanco is not.
The same holds true for Ruf, who snapped an 0-for-11 slump with a pinch-hit homer this afternoon, and others.
A lot of people are unhappy with Ryan Howard, who struck out four times in four at-bats today. But you might as well relax because he is going to continue to play. First, who is he holding back? Ruf had 12 at-bats this week, which should be enough to show what he can do. And even if Maikel Franco were the hottest hitter in Triple-A, he would remain there until the end of May for the same reason Cubs prospect Kris Bryant opened the season in Triple-A: team control for an extra year. Second, it’s one week. I’m not suggesting Howard will return to MVP form with more time, but it doesn’t make sense to pull the plug on somebody owed $60 million just one week into the season.
The team is going to to struggle and Howard might struggle along with it, but he should get a good look.
They had hoped he would get healthy, then trade him to a contender to inject young talent into the system. Of course, Lee’s injury also puts more pressure on an already suspect offense. The Phillies ranked 27th in baseball last season with a .665 OPS, then traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. And while wins and losses will not be viewed like seasons past, the Phillies front office has said it does not want the team to embarrass itself in 2015.
Having Cole Hamels and Lee atop the Phillies’ rotation at least provided the Phillies the opportunity to win a few low-scoring games.
But with Lee possibly out, those 4-3, 3-2, 2-1 wins become less likely.
The Phillies’ offense has not been tearing the cover off the ball in the first week of Grapefruit League games. Andres Blanco and Xavier Paul are the only two Phillies to hit home runs. Both are non-roster invitees. The Phillies are one of five teams to hit just two homers this spring. The Rockies have hit just one.
The Phillies also are last in baseball with a .554 OPS.
“I’m not going to sit back and count on a home run,” Ryne Sandberg said after today’s 1-0 victory over the Orioles. “That’ll be a bonus. Doubles, for me, is a power swing and a power number. You can score a guy from first with a double. So hopefully some of these swings will turn into doubles.”
It is just one week of games, and when is the last time the first week of Spring Training accurately forecast a regular season? But the early production is worth mentioning because of last season’s struggles, the fact the front office did not replace Rollins and Byrd with comparable players and the fact Hamels could still be traded and Lee could be shut down.
He again made it a priority today at Petco Park.
“Solidify the starting rotation,” he said, referring to a rotation that ranked 11th in the National League with a 3.90 ERA and 13th with a 1.32 WHIP.
But this team needs much more than starting pitching. They need some big bats in the middle of the lineup. Internally, Phillies officials acknowledge Chase Utley (.660 OPS since May 28) and Ryan Howard (.685 OPS this season) would be better suited hitting somewhere other than third and fourth in the lineup.
Of course, No. 3 and 4 hitters are terribly difficult to find.
“Everyone needs the same thing,” Sandberg said.
Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas could be an option. He is working out Sunday for big-league teams, and the Phillies are interested. But Tomas could command a huge price, based on the fact fellow Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo recently signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with the Red Sox.
Sandberg said the team could use “more consistent production” from the middle of the lineup. He said he would like to see fewer strikeouts, too.
“I’d like to see that come down,” he said.
Howard entered Wednesday second in baseball with 177 strikeouts. Marlon Byrd ranked third with 173. But the Phillies could handle the strikeouts if they came with more power. Howard has just 21 home runs. Byrd leads the team with 25.
The Phillies are fourth in the league with 1,223 strikeouts, but are 13th with a .364 slugging percentage.
“Just an approach of overall contact, making things happen, putting the ball in play,” Sandberg said.
Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week the Phillies need to make serious upgrades to their offense.
He could start in the outfield.
Despite the fact Marlon Byrd is fourth in the National League in home runs and sixth in RBIs and Ben Revere has the highest batting average in baseball since June 25, Phillies outfielders entered yesterday’s series finale against the Mariners at Citizens Bank Park with a combined .706 OPS, which ranked 19th in baseball. Domonic Brown‘s .622 OPS ranked 56th out of 60 qualifying outfielders. Brown is on pace to have the lowest OPS of any left fielder since Chuck Knoblauch (.582) in 2002.
Multiple sources said recently the Phillies will take a shot at Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo, but they are not expected to sign him. Castillo established residency in Haiti and was cleared by the U.S. government to sign with a team in July.
The Phillies could be more aggressive with other international free agents in the coming months. Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas has big-time power, and is somebody to watch closely. Tomas could hit the market in the next couple of months.
Yozzen Cuesta is a corner infielder, which would require the Phillies to shuffle several pieces if they plan to pursue him.
Tomas and Cuesta have established residency outside the United States and Cuba. They need to be cleared by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), then declared free agents by Major League Baseball before they sign. But action on those players could pick up once Castillo signs with a team.
It could come in the form of trades before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, injured players finally getting healthy or Minor Leaguers finally getting a shot.
“It’s disappointing, particularly the offense,” Amaro said about the Phillies’ performance. “What more can you say other than we’re not swinging the bats very well? I didn’t anticipate our guys being this poor. Because they are. They are this poor. We think that they’re better. But they haven’t shown it. So at some point we’re going to have to make some changes. Some guys, once they are ready to play, may be factors for us.”
The Phillies hit just .206 and averaged just 2.56 runs a game over their recent 3-13 slide. They hit .148 with runners in scoring position in that stretch. For the season, the Phillies are 26th in baseball in runs per game (3.75) and 29th in OPS (.661), despite having a franchise-record $180 million payroll and nearly every high-paid hitter healthy.
Possible changes include Triple-A outfielders Darin Ruf and Grady Sizemore and infielders Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.
“Whoever else in the organization may be factors for us,” Amaro said. “We have to get them healthy and see if it behooves us to make any of those changes.”
Ruf is recovering from a knee and wrist injury, Sizemore can opt out of his contract over the All-Star break if he is not in the Phillies’ plans, Galvis is recovering from a broken collarbone and Franco is trying to get on track after struggling most of the season.
Franco, who was the organization’s top hitting prospect entering the season, is hitting .342 (13-for-38) with two doubles, one triple, one home run and eight RBIs in the past nine games.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” Amaro said. “Hey, listen, I’m looking for people who can swing the bat. Because we’re not doing it here. If he gets to the point where he starts swinging the bat consistently, he’s a guy who could be in play too.”
But Franco plays third base and Phillies third baseman Cody Asche warrants a longer look. Could both be on the field at the same time?
“Yeah, because he could play first base, too,” Amaro said about Franco.
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hitting .230 with 14 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .701 OPS, which ranks 114th out of 165 qualifying hitters in baseball.
Amaro said there is still interest in his players, despite their poor play recently. He also said the front office has been active in pursuing improvements.
“Whether we’ll actually get it done or if there is something that can improve us, it depends on how our club is being evaluated,” Amaro said. “If we’re going to make changes, we make changes to get better. Everything we think about is thinking about how we can improve our club. Will we be better? That’s what you have to analyze.”
He leads baseball with a .500 batting average, .565 on-base percentage, .875 slugging percentage and 1.440 OPS. Elias Sports Bureau said he is the first Phillies player to open a season 20-for-40 since Von Hayes in 1989.
We also know Utley won’t keep up this pace forever. But the Phillies are hoping their offense keeps up its pace through the first 12 games of the season. The Phillies lead the National League with a .354 on-base percentage and 49 walks. (Remove Utley from the equation and the team still has a .327 on-base percentage, which would rank fifth in the league.) Have the Phillies had bad days with runners in scoring position? Yes. They are sixth in the NL averaging 4.67 runs per game, so they can do a better job of taking advantage of their opportunities. But from 2005-11, when the Phillies led the league in runs, they also led the league in runners left on base. Utley often mentioned that in the past: Sure, they are leaving a lot of runners on base, but that is because they are putting a lot of runners on base. Typically, the law of averages kicks in and many of those runners score. The Phillies are hoping the same holds true this season.
Regardless, the first 12 games are a marked improvement over the past two seasons when the Phillies were ninth in the league averaging a paltry 3.99 runs per game and 11th with a .312 on-base percentage.
Following four consecutive losses by four or more runs, the Phillies must step into the batter’s box tonight at Citizens Bank Park and try to beat Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who went 1-0 with a 0.50 ERA in three starts against them last season, striking out 16 batters in 18 innings and holding them to a .359 OPS.
Fernandez has been dominant in his first two starts this year: eight hits, one run, two walks and 17 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings.
If the Phillies can’t crack the Hernandez code they will fall to 3-7. But it’s early, right? I’ve been reminded the 2007 Phillies opened the season 4-11 before winning the National League East. But a few things to remember there: the Phillies needed to finish 13-4 and the Mets needed to finish 5-12 to make it happen. It also took the Phillies until May 16 to get back to .500, and that team had the best offense in the National League and three MVP-caliber players in their prime in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. This team can’t say that. Perhaps when Cole Hamels returns the Phillies can say they have a formidable 1-2-3 punch atop their rotation, but they still need nights when they can string together a bunch of hits.
Ask Cliff Lee, who has had some of the worst run support in baseball since resigning with the Phillies in Dec. 2010.
The Phillies have hit just .243 with a .317 on-base percentage since they scored 14 runs Opening Day against the Rangers. They have hit just .203 with runners in scoring position in that stretch. But this has been a team effort. In their last four games, the pitching staff has a 5.91 ERA, which doesn’t include the 10 unearned runs they have allowed. The bullpen has allowed 60 percent (6 of 10) of its inherited runners to score this season, which is the second-worst mark in baseball.
I’ve heard countless baseball people say pennants can’t be won in April, but they can be lost. The Phillies entered the season with a very small margin for error. They don’t want to bury themselves too deep too quickly, but a 3-7 start would have them on the way.
The Phillies recently spent $42 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd, and barring a big move from Ruben Amaro Jr. those signings could be the end of their offensive upgrades for 2014. Every position is set, unless Amaro trades somebody like Domonic Brown or Ben Revere or some starting pitching to add a bat. It seems clear the front office is entering next season the same way it entered this past season: hoping a healthier roster is enough to return them to the postseason. The Phillies thought a healthier Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in 2013 would provide a big boost. The theory had some merit. The Phillies were 45-57 on July 29, 2012, before they traded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. They finished 36-24 for the fifth-best record in the National League. They thought they had momentum. They thought they saw signs of the former five-time NL East champions.
But that hope is a harder sell following a 73-89 finish in 2013, the organization’s worst since they lost 97 games in 2000. The Phillies scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball lats season.
Not only do the Phillies need Howard and Ben Revere healthy and productive, they need bounce back seasons from Ruiz (he had his worst season since 2008) and Jimmy Rollins (he had the worst season of his career), Byrd to prove a career-year at 35 wasn’t a fluke, Brown to prove he can replicate his breakout season and Utley to prove he can stay healthy two years in a row.
It seems like a lot of things need to break perfectly for the Phillies to score more runs next year.
Thoughts on this potential lineup for 2014?
- Revere, CF
- Rollins, SS
- Utley, 2B
- Howard, 1B
- Byrd, RF
- Brown, LF
- Ruiz, C
- Cody Asche, 3B
Cole Hamels might be getting his mojo back, which could mean good things for the Phillies going forward. They need good pitching.
A few numbers to consider this fine Wednesday morning:
- The Phillies have won six of their last eight games.
- Since Atlanta started the season 12-1, it is 40-37, while the Phillies are 39-38 and the Nationals are 38-38. The Braves are practically begging somebody to challenge them in the NL East the second half of the season.
- Since the end of May, the Phillies rank seventh in baseball averaging 4.58 runs per game. Since a loss in San Diego on June 24, they are seventh in baseball averaging 5.29 runs per game.
- Ben Revere is hitting .346 since the end of April, which is seventh-best in baseball. He also is hitting .369 with an .871 OPS this season against lefties.
- Following a 0-for-22 slump at the end of May, Michael Young has hit .331 with eight doubles, one triple, four home runs, 15 RBIs and an .844 OPS in his last 33 games.
- Chase Utley‘s .504 slugging percentage is his best mark since a .508 slugging percentage in 2009.
- Delmon Young has hit safely in 13 of his past 14 games. He is hitting .431 with three doubles, one home run, 10 RBIs and a 1.022 OPS in that stretch.
- Domonic Brown cooled a bit in June, hitting .135 with two RBIs in a 10-game stretch. But in 18 games since June 19 he has hit .319 with five doubles, two triples, four homers, 15 RBIs and a .978 OPS. He is hitting .305 with an .816 OPS against lefties, and .343 with a 1.007 OPS in eight games in the cleanup spot.
- Jimmy Rollins is not hitting for any power this season, but he has a .326 batting average and .340 on-base percentage in his last 10 games.
Looking at those numbers you could say the offense is coming alive, which is desperately needed because the pitching staff is 24th in baseball with a 4.33 ERA since June 8. The bullpen is even worse. It has a 5.21 ERA in that stretch, which is 27th. That is why Hamels’ last two starts are encouraging. If he can return to form he can put up a few zeroes, keep the young relievers in the pen and give the Phillies a better chance to win.
If these past few weeks are a sign of something real and not fool’s good then you have to think the Phillies will look to shore up its bullpen in the coming weeks. Of course, at what cost? As encouraging as the offense has been lately, I can’t imagine it would make much sense to part with a legitimate prospect to plug a hole in the bullpen … unless it is a guy the Phillies can keep beyond this season. (Joba Chamberlain? That makes ZERO sense. I mean, none.)