After One Week, Still Lots To Be Concerned About


Apr 07, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler (16) rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam home run off of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels (35) during the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies have played six games so far in 2013. That’s 3.7% of the 2013 season.

One week down, 26 to go.

So yes, it’s still early. The Phils have played one series on the road against Atlanta and one series at home against the improved Royals, wrapping up their three-game hope-opening series with a discouraging 9-8 loss to Kansas City on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

Six games is a small sample size, so it would be unwise to make any sweeping generalizations. But there are a few areas where Phils fans, and the front office, should be concerned.

For all the talk about the top of the starting rotation being a strength, Cole Hamels has struggled mightily in his first two starts, giving up 13 earned runs and 16 hits in just 10 2/3 innings pitched. He blew a 4-0 lead on Sunday, two days after #4 starter Kyle Kendrick also blew an early 4-0 lead.

(By the way, the Phils would be wise to stay away from 4-0 leads. They’re simply not good at protecting them. Ask Cliff Lee.)

Roy Halladay, who gets the nod in a highly-anticipated appearance on Monday night against the Mets, couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning last week in Atlanta when he gave up five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. So far, the only good starting performances have been turned in by Lee and John Lannan. And it’s no coincidence the Phils won both games.

No matter what’s going on offensively, starting pitchers are supposed to protect 4-0 leads. Every single time.

But it hasn’t been just the starters. The bullpen has been a disaster as well. Chad Durbin at least got his ERA under infinity recently, down to a scant 11.57 after three appearances. Raul Valdes is sporting a hefty 14.73 ERA and Jeremy Horst‘s is 10.80.

The Phillies bullpen has allowed 10 of the 11 inherited runners to score so far this year, turning close games into blowouts. And whether you pitch Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo or Phillippe Aumont in the 6th and 7th innings, at some point, Durbin, Horst and Valdes are going to have to pitch. You can’t ignore three weak links in the ‘pen forever, as Charlie Manuel noted yesterday.

"“We were pitching what we have,” Manuel said. “That’s who we have right now.”"

Boy, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

All told, pitching has been a disaster so far in 2013.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan noted after Sunday’s game, the Phillies can’t afford to stay with these struggling relievers for too much longer, small sample size or not.

"The Phillies sent relievers Michael Stutes, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman and Joe Savery to the minors. Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to keep a shuttle running between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley until somebody proves they can handle these jobs. The Phillies were 36-44 while waiting around for Qualls to put it together [last year]. Their record after that, 45-37, had more to do with the return of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but a few more early wins couldn’t have hurt."

On offense, the Phils managed to pile up nine runs on Sunday, but four of them came in the 9th inning, after the team was already down 9-4. And while they have lost two games after which it notched early 4-0 leads (leads that should almost always hold up), it has also shown a maddening inconsistency and lack of extra base power.

The three-run home run is an endangered species with this team.

Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Despite his torrid spring, Ryan Howard did not bring his hot bat with him from Florida. And until Sunday, Michael Young had been invisible as well. As the Daily News’ David Murphy noted in his game notes Sunday…

"Michael Young’s two-out double off James Shields in the fifth inning Sunday was the first extra-base hit produced by the Phillies’ No. 4 or No. 5 hitters. Particularly glaring has been the slow start by $25 million-a-year first baseman Ryan Howard, who contributed a single to the four-run rally in the ninth inning but started the game 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a weak groundout to first base. In 26 plate appearances this season, Howard has yet to record an extra-base hit, the deepest he has gone into any season without doing so. While Chase Utley continued his torrid play, going 2-for-5 with an RBI to improve to 9-for-23 with two walks and four extra-base hits, Howard is 4-for-24 with eight strikeouts and two walks through six games."

The Phillies have been doing a much better job so far this year at getting on base and seeing more pitches per plate appearance. But it hasn’t translated into a more consistent offense yet.

"They entered Sunday with 17 walks, having drawn one in 9.1 percent of their plate appearances, the fourth-highest rate in the National League. They were averaging 4.00 pitches seen per plate appearance, which also ranked fourth and represented a marked improvement over 2012, when they ranked 10th in the National League with 3.78 P/PA. Last year, the Phillies did not draw their 17th walk until the ninth game of the season."

Of course, the mantra is, “the big hits will come.” Only, for much of the last two years, they haven’t. The Phillies’ slugging percentage declined every year from 2009-2011, with a tiny uptick last year (.447, .413, .395, .400). Howard is making a ton of money to “drive in runs.” The best way to do that is to hit doubles and home runs. So far, he isn’t doing that.

It’s still early. Cole Hamels wasn’t the only ace pitcher to have a rough time on Sunday. Middle relief is still a big problem, but it sure appears that if the Phillies can get a lead to the 7th inning, they’re in good position to close a lot of games out with Adams, Bastardo, Aumont and Papelbon. And while Howard and Young had a rough first week, the top of the lineup is getting on base and setting the table for the middle of the order.

But one week into the 2013 season, there are troubling signs. They are a miracle Kevin Frandsen hit away from being 1-5. And because the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are so good, the Phils can’t afford to get off to the slow starts they were able to overcome in 2007 and 2008.

They need to find their stride quickly, or they’ll find themselves buried in the NL East before the season really gets going.