Results tagged ‘ offense ’

Is This the 2014 Phillies Lineup?

Ruiz Hits Record HeatI wrote about this yesterday, but I thought it’d make a good discussion here.

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?

  1. Revere, CF
  2. Rollins, SS
  3. Utley, 2B
  4. Howard, 1B
  5. Byrd, RF
  6. Brown, LF
  7. Ruiz, C
  8. Cody Asche, 3B

An Offensive Pulse

Chase Utley, Kurt SuzukiCole 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.)

Is This A Playoff Team? Hamels Says Ask Somebody Else

Jimmy RollinsWell, that couldn’t have gone much worse.

A few thoughts on the Phillies following their 3-7 road trip:

  • There is a level of frustration settling into the Phillies’ clubhouse, an amount I haven’t seen in Charlie Manuel‘s nine seasons here. Just read Cliff Lee‘s comments Thursday in Minnesota, or what Cole Hamels told reporters after yesterday’s loss in Colorado. Is this a playoff team? “I’m not going to comment on that one,” Hamels said. “You can ask the other guys that one.” Remember, those comments are being made publicly, which certainly means the apathy/resignation/frustration is worse behind closed doors. That is troubling. I remember in seasons past, somebody like Jayson Werth would say confidently and almost nonchalantly, “Relax, everybody. We’re fine. We’re much better than this. We’ll pick it up when we need to pick it up.” They knew they would. You don’t hear that talk right now.
  • The Phillies are 25th in baseball in runs per game. They are 24th in ERA. In seasons past, the Phillies always had one thing going for it: a great offense or a great pitching staff. You could always say, “Well, if they add a bat (Hunter Pence) or if they add an arm (Lee or Roy Oswalt) at the trade deadline it could push them over the top.” You can’t say that with this team. There are too many holes. Where would you even start?
  • Look at where the Phillies rank in OPS at every position. Catcher: 23rd at .651. First base: 17th at .763. Second base: 20th at .671. Third base: 13th at .727. Shortstop: Ninth at .747. Left field: second at .876. Center field: 27th at .616. Right field: 23rd at .691. Second base would be better if Chase Utley had remained healthy, but other than that the only two positions holding their own against the best in baseball are left field (Domonic Brown) and shortstop (Jimmy Rollins).
  • If you say, well, the Phillies are only 8 1/2 games back in the NL East (I’m not sure why anybody would say that, but still …), remember the NL East is probably the worst division in baseball.
  • Looking for a reason to keep the faith? That’s tough, but I guess if you’re going to hold onto something hold onto this: Manuel’s teams traditionally are much better in the second half (.610 winning percentage after the All-Star break from 2005-12 is second-best in baseball). Of course, if they keep playing like this they could be buried in the standings and some of their top players could be traded by July 31. That traditional second-half surge might not matter.
  • Take a look at the upcoming free agent class at MLB Trade Rumors. I don’t see a lot of guys that could help the Phillies turn around their fortunes quickly.  Is there anybody that gets you excited enough to say, “I’d be OK if the Phillies shelled out a ton of cash for him?” There is Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury and that’s about it as far as high on-base percentage bats the Phillies could use. (Forget about Robinson Cano. I can’t believe the Yankees will let him sign elsewhere.)

Manuel Fired Up About Woeful Offense

Charlie Manuel, Andy FletcherIt took just a couple questions about his lineup and offense today to get Charlie Manuel completely riled up.

It might be the most frustrated I’ve seen him when talking about his offense.

It started innocently enough with a few questions about Ryan Howard’s recent struggles and if they might be connected to his ailing left knee. Howard entered tonight’s game at Target Field with just one home run in his past 107 plate appearances. He is on pace to hit just 17 home runs with 77 RBIs this season and his .735 on-base-plus-slugging percentage ranks 100th out of 163 qualifying players in baseball.

That clearly is not the production the Phillies need from their cleanup hitter.

Asked if Manuel could hit somebody else fourth, Manuel said, “What the (heck) are you getting at? Who’s going to hit there? Let me ask you a question. Let me turn that around some. Write what you want to write.”

Well, how about Domonic Brown?

“I could put anybody in there, OK?” Manuel said. “I’ll do the managing. Whoever hits there, hits there.”

But it must be alarming for more than just Manuel that Howard’s production has been declining in recent seasons. The Phillies owe him $85 million following this year.

“Of course I’m concerned,” Manuel said. “I’m concerned with everybody. Hey, look, I’m concerned with every (single) player I’ve got. Yeah, I’m concerned. I want to win. We say that we want to win the division and we want to go to the World Series, right? I’m concerned about every one of our guys. I’m concerned about that (.247) batting average. I’m concerned about that. I’m not only concerned about one guy, I’m concerned about them all. How about that? I don’t know what I can do about it. I can go back to my room and sit there and look at the walls, and get up and come to the ballpark and look at the walls. I don’t know what I can do about it. The only thing I can do is to put them out there and let them play.”

Asked if he was upset about the offense or the questions concerning his offense, Manuel said, “A little of both, probably. We are inconsistent performance-wise. And when you’ve got that, it’s hard. We won five games in a row, then we lose four. That’s kind of how we’ve been playing.”

Brown, Howard Heating Up

Ryan Howard Domonic BrownThere has been plenty of focus in the past 24 hours on the Phillies’ pitching staff (and pitching coach), but I maintain the biggest reason for this team’s losing is its struggling offense. They are averaging 3.7 runs per game, which is 11th in the National League and 23rd in baseball.

But a couple key bats have started to show a pulse, which could get the offense moving. Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard have homered in consecutive games. Brown is hitting .382 (13-for-34) with two doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs in his last nine games. Howard has four homers and 12 RBIs in his last nine. He also is hitting .348 (16-for-46) with five doubles, four home runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.090 OPS in his last 13. It goes without saying the offense stands a much better chance if these guys start producing on a consistent basis.

(Ah, for the days when fans complained the Phillies relied too much on home runs. They sure seem to like them now.)

The offense needs to continue to build this weekend against the Marlins. Yes, the Marlins are terrible, but the Phillies need some positive vibes before they fly to San Francisco on Sunday evening to open a seven-game road trip in San Francisco and Arizona. The Giants are 17-12, and tied for first in the National League West. The Diamondbacks are 15-14. Things won’t be easy out there. If the Phillies move to .500 with a sweep of the Marlins or split the remaining two games to head West 15-17, it would be another bad sign if they limped back from the trip 2-5 or worse. At some point this team, if it’s as good as it thinks it is, needs to go on a run. And that won’t happen if they aren’t hitting.

Will May Be Any Better?

Cliff Lee, Carlos RuizThe Phillies turned the calendar to May yesterday, but found the same uninspired play as they showed most of April.

The Indians beat them last night, 6-0, to outscore them 20-2 in the two-game series. The Phillies spoke of the Indians, who are fifth in baseball in scoring (5.04 runs per game) and third in OPS (.799), like they were the ’27 Yankees. Hot. Unstoppable. They hit seven homers Tuesday, but scattered seven infield hits to help them win last night. They took advantage of their opportunities, while most Phillies fans felt like they could turn the channel after the fourth inning both nights because they knew the Phillies weren’t going to make a game of it.

Those feelings weren’t misplaced.

“We have to have a little more pride than that and figure out a way to at least get back into games and make it somewhat competitive,” Cliff Lee said. “Both games, it was never close.”

Phillies fans are frustrated, and understandably so. These games have been tough to watch. The Phillies are 26th in scoring (3.57 runs per game) and 26th in OPS (.679). This is not what the Phillies said would happen with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard healthy. But they have been no magic cure because other players need to hit, too. Phillies outfielders have a .601 OPS, which is the worst mark in baseball. They have grounded into 25 double plays. That ranks only ninth in baseball, but they rank fifth in GIDP percentage (14.2 percent). They are 5-13 in games started by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Lee.

The good news? It is early, technically. We’ve seen the Phillies play poorly at the beginning of the season in the past. It might be tough, but give them another couple months. If they’re playing like this in late June, it likely means they will be way behind in the standings. And if that is the case, I suspect Ruben Amaro Jr. will hold another fire sale. And if you thought last year’s was big with Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton, this one could (re: should) dwarf that. I mean, why hold onto a bunch of players with value or entering the final years of their contracts. That means Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Michael Young, Carlos Ruiz, Delmon Young, Halladay, Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams could be trade candidates. In the meantime, there simply is little to be done other than hope they finally start playing well.

The Phillies will have a chance to get healthy with a four-game series against the Marlins beginning tonight at Citizens Bank Park. Anything less than three wins is a disappointment. The Marlins (8-20) are a terrible team, regardless of the fact that “any team wearing big-league uniforms has a chance to win,” as the cliche goes. The Phillies are at home, playing against a very, very bad team without their only star player, slugger Giancarlo Stanton. They should roll.

If they show a little more pride maybe they will.

Pettibone Shows Control; Offense Shoots Blanks

Jonathan PettiboneFrom Elias Sports Bureau: Jonathan Pettibone allowed two runs, no walks and struck out six in a 3-2 victory last night over the Pirates. Only two other Phillies pitchers have registered at least six strikeouts without a walk in their big-league debut: Charles Hudson on May 31, 1983 (eight strikeouts against the Dodgers) and Carlton Loewer on June 14, 1998 (eight strikeouts against the Cubs).

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I’d say Pettibone earned another start.

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The game never should have been so close, but the offense continues to putter along in the clutch. They were 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position last night. They are hitting .250 (22-for-88) with RISP since April 10, which ranks 17th in baseball and ninth in the National League. Remove a 6-for-11 effort against the Cardinals on Friday and they’re hitting just .208 (16-for-77) with RISP. The Phillies also are hitting .133 (2-for-15) with the bases loaded this season. That ranks 25th in baseball and 14th in the National League.

Walk Watch: Day 5

Jimmy RollinsThe Phillies have not walked in a game since the eighth inning Sunday in Miami, when Chad Qualls intentionally walked Domonic Brown.

They have not earned a true walk since the sixth inning Sunday, when John Mayberry Jr. got a free pass.

The Phillies have played four consecutive games without a walk, which is a truly remarkable feat. It is the longest streak in baseball since the Chicago White Sox played four consecutive games without a walk in Aug. 2011. It is the longest streak in the National League since the Arizona Diamondbacks played four consecutive games without a walk in Aug. 2009.

The Phillies are just the fourth NL team to hit that mark since 1935. The 2009 Diamondbacks, 1976 Montreal Expos and 1952 New York Giants are the others.

Can they get a walk tonight? They are just one game from tying the single-season modern baseball record, according to Baseball Reference. The Phillies opened the 1920 season with five consecutive games without a walk. (They finished the 1919 season with two games without a walk, bringing the overall record to seven games.) The Phillies face Jamie Garcia tonight. He has walked nine batters in 19 1/3 innings.

Oh, how times have changed. Here are the Phillies’ walks totals since Charlie Manuel became manager in 2005, where they ranked in the National League in walks and where they finished in the league in scoring :

  • 2005: 639, first in walks (2nd in scoring).
  • 2006: 626, first (1st).
  • 2007: 641, first (1st).
  • 2008: 586, fifth (tied 2nd).
  • 2009: 589, seventh (1st).
  • 2010: 560, fourth (2nd).
  • 2011: 539, fifth (7th).
  • 2012: 454, thirteenth (8th).
  • 2013: 34, fourteenth (11th).

Time to Score

Charlie ManuelThe last six games could not have been more painful to watch, if you like any semblance of offense.

I’m not even talking about a lot of offense. I’m talking about a little bit of offense. You know, like a four or five-run game every once in a while. But the Phillies hit their high-water mark on their just completed six-game road trip through Miami and Cincinnati on Friday, when they scored three runs against the Marlins. And they needed 10 innings to do that.

Let’s take a look at some of the wretched numbers:

  • The Phillies did not score a single run before the sixth inning in any game during the road trip.
  • They hit just .205 and scored a mere 10 runs overall.
  • They failed to walk once in the entire series against the Reds. It is the first time since Aug. 13-15, 1995, they had no walks over a three-game span. It is just the second time it has happened to them in the past 50 years. It is the first time it has happened in baseball since Aug. 2011, when the White Sox failed to walk in four consecutive games. Walks matter. On-base percentage matters. You can’t score if you don’t get anybody on base. Ever.
  • The Phillies are averaging 3.47 runs per game this season, which ranks 12th in the National League. They are 12th with a .667 OPS. They have walked just 34 times, which is tied for the second-lowest mark in the league. They have struck out 120 times, which is third. Remember how people said, “The Braves are going to hit home runs, but they are going to strike out too much?” Well, the Braves have struck out a whopping 121 times, just one more than the Phillies. But they also have walked 10 more times, and have scored 16 more runs. Of course, the biggest difference is the Braves lead the National League with a 1.77 ERA, while the Phillies are 15th with a 4.90 ERA. But pitching wasn’t the problem during this trip, other than John Lannan‘s performance last night. It was the toothless offense.

I got a ton of tweets last night during the game basically saying everybody must go. Ruben Amaro Jr. to Charlie Manuel to the lineup. Basically the entire team. Let me say right now: if you really believe this on April 18 don’t hold your breath. If you can find another team in baseball that made wholesale changes 15 games into a 162-game season, please let me know. The Phillies are going to see what happens when Carlos Ruiz and Delmon Young join the team. They are going to give themselves time. It might be fruitless. It might be a gigantic waste of time, but this is what they are going to do. So if you are breathing fire today you should relax. It will get you nowhere.

I’ve also gotten more than a few tweets and e-mails about the Phillies changing their lineup. The folks that absolutely demanded Manuel hit Ben Revere leadoff suddenly have changed their tune as he is hitless in his last 14 at-bats to drop his batting average and slugging percentage to .194. But the alternative is Jimmy Rollins, who went 1-for-18 on the trip.

The only real option to improve the lineup? Keep playing and hope things get better. Yes, that’s it. It’s not much of a plan, but it’s the only plan they’ve got. Ryne Sandberg can’t make these guys hit. Screaming at them won’t make them hit. Punishing them won’t make them hit. (Some fans seem to think treating professional baseball players like they’re freshmen on a JV team is the way to go. Not sure the Mike Rice method would be effective in the Phillies’ clubhouse.) Either they’re going to hit or they’re not. But massive changes 15 games into the season? Not going to happen. But Amaro won’t wait forever, either. He showed last July 31 he will make changes if needed. But it’s April 18. We’re a long way from there.

Your best option? If you’re of legal age, crack open a beer or have a scotch. It’ll help calm the nerves.

Nine Up, Nine Down

Chase UtleyHere are some things we’ve learned through the first nine games of the season:

  • You should be worried about Roy Halladay. Despite protests from Halladay and everybody else in the Phillies clubhouse and front office, Halladay has not looked good since 2011. So this isn’t a four or five start slump. This is a slump that has extended beyond one full calendar year. It started in Spring Training 2012 and has lasted through his first two starts in 2013. Besides a drop in velocity, Halladay’s ERA from 2010-11 to 2012-13 has jumped from 2.40 to 4.95, while his strikeout-to-walk ratio has plummeted from 6.75 to 3.43. He is going the wrong direction in every relevant statistic. Maybe he can figure out things and be productive, but right now there is no evidence to suggest he is close. He faces the wretched Marlins on Sunday. They’ve had Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs hitting cleanup. It is a good opportunity to have some success on the mound. Maybe it gets him going.
  • Don’t be worried about Cole Hamels. If we’re at Defcon 2 with Halladay, we’re at Defcon 5 with Hamels. There is nothing to see here. Please, disperse.
  • It’s more the rotation than the bullpen. Phillies starters have a 6.24 ERA, which ranks 28th in baseball. That is the biggest issue right now, not middle relievers like Chad Durbin, Jeremy Horst and Raul Valdes. Certainly they need to do a better job. They have allowed 12-of-15 inherited runners to score. That 80 percent mark is the worst in baseball. (Technically, the Reds have allowed 100 percent of their inherited runners to score, but they’re only 1-for-1.) But the middle relievers have been pitching too much and have put into too many tough situations. That blame falls on the starters. They are the ones that need to do better. They are supposed to pitch deep into games and they have not done that nearly enough.
  • The Phillies rank seventh in the National League, averaging 4.67 runs per game. They have looked better recently, and they show some potential. Chase Utley, Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins are swinging well right now. Domonic Brown has been OK. I believe Ryan Howard will be better than he has been. The only drag right now is Ben Revere. He has struck out seven times in 38 at-bats. That’s 5.86 plate appearances per strikeout. He struck out 54 times last season, or once every 10.24 plate appearances. John Mayberry Jr. has been productive, but even if he continues to swing well the Phillies are going with Delmon Young in right field when he is ready. Add Young and Carlos Ruiz to the lineup before the end of the month and this lineup has a chance to score some runs.
  • Utley looks like the guy that earned the “Best Second Baseman in Baseball” tag from 2005-09.
  • Cliff Lee can be streaky. The Phillies should be thankful he started on a good streak, otherwise they’d be in deep doo-doo.
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