I warned everyone that the Braves were coming into town with revenge on their minds. That revenge was certainly achieved as they swept the Phillies in a four-game series that propelled the Braves into first place and the Phillies to a season-low ten games under .500.
So what did we learn from this depressing weekend series?
1. The Phillies can’t win without sterling starting pitching
Heading into the season, the Phillies’ team strength appeared to be the top of their rotation. Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett looked like a strong front of the rotation; one that would give the Phillies a good chance to win most of the games they started.
Unfortunately, the Phillies played four games against the Braves and none of the games were started by Lee, Hamels, and Burnett. That meant that they were unlikely to receive the type of dominant outing from their starter that could carry them to victory.
2. Even when they get good starting pitching, they still have trouble
Here are the lines from the Phillies four starters in the series:
Kyle Kendrick: 8 IP, 4 ER
Roberto Hernandez: 7 IP, 2 ER
Sean O’Sullivan: 5.2 IP, 4 ER
David Buchanan: 5 IP, 3 ER
While none of these starts should be considered gems, none of the outings were disastrous either. The lines are more impressive when you consider that upon entering Spring Training, the pitchers were probably 4th, 5th, 9th, and 10th on the starting pitching depth chart.
When you get that far down into the roster, you need to get some support from the defense and offense. Between the Ryan Howard follies at first base and the team’s 3-32 showing with runners in scoring position, they didn’t receive that support.
3. The Phillies bullpen is actually the team’s greatest strength
In the early going, many of the Phillies’ problems centered around the bullpen’s inability to get guys out. As we head into July, the team is full of problems, but the relief pitching doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Admittedly, the Saturday afternoon game featured a truly awful effort from Antonio Bastardo and Luis Garcia. But Bastardo had been pitching well this month, so hopefully this was just an instance of him getting all of the “bad Bastardo” out of his system in one outing. And there’s a reason why Garcia has bounced back and forth between the majors and minors. He’s a fringe roster player at best.
The recent work turned in by Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, and Mario Hollands shouldn’t be overlooked. And if he ever had a lead to protect, I’d probably even mention the fine work by Jonathan Papelbon as well.
4. The lineup doesn’t have anyone capable of carrying it for extended periods of time
When the Phillies swept the Braves, a big reason was because Ryan Howard had a huge series that was reminiscent of his prime. While those stretches still occur from Howard, they are happening much less frequently than they used to.
It’s not unheard of for a player to decline as he gets older. But there are two major problems:
1. Howard is still paid like he’s that team-carrying star.
2. Nobody else on the team appears capable of carrying it either.
There is nobody in the Phillies’ lineup that opposing pitchers should fear. Chase Utley started off the season looking fearsome, but he’s cooled off in a big way. Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd are good players who would fit in well in a successful lineup, but they should be looked at more like complimentary pieces.
And the guy who the team hoped would be that centerpiece (Domonic Brown) has been one of the worst players in baseball.
When you have a lineup that consists of only complimentary pieces and replacement-level players, you may have trouble scoring runs.
5. The Phillies simply don’t perform well at home
It’s difficult to explain the Phillies’ struggles at home this season, but the good news is, their next nine games are on the road. Maybe getting away from Citizens Bank Park will help them get their act together.