What went wrong? A look back at the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies season
By Mike Lacy
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
If you’re a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, you might not be paying much attention to the 2014 MLB playoffs. That is because for the third straight season, the Phillies have not been a part of the playoff field.
The exclusion is not especially surprising, since heading into the 2014 season, there was not a lot of optimism surrounding the team. Most predictions had them missing the playoffs, and as it turned out, those predictions were correct.
As usual, I was a bit more hopeful than most people. I expected the team to be around .500, and even though it seemed unlikely that the Phillies would make the postseason, I could see it happening if everything broke in their favor.
Everything did not break in their favor. As a result, the Phillies finished with an 73-89 record (identical to 2013), which was good for last place in the National League East.
So what went wrong? Why did the Phillies fail to live up to the modest expectations I had for them? Here are the main reasons:
Starting pitching went from strength to weakness
I figured that if the Phillies were going to make the playoffs, it would be because they had superior starting pitching. It wasn’t completely unreasonable to feel that way considering how the rotation looked heading into Spring Training:
- Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels would be aces at the front of the rotation, providing the Phillies with shutdown pitching two out of every five days.
- A.J. Burnett would be a strong #3 starter, repeating what he did the last two years in Pittsburgh.
- Kyle Kendrick would still be inconsistent, but if he could come close to his performance from the first half of 2013, he’d be a good fourth starter.
- Roberto Hernandez would prove the team’s analytics department correct and become a solid fifth starter.
That’s not how things ended up playing out.Cliff Lee
. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Hamels missed the first few weeks of the season, and it took him a few starts to find his form. Once he started pitching well, Cliff Lee suffered an injury to his elbow that would essentially end his season. So for the majority of the year, instead of two aces atop the rotation, the Phillies would have only one.
Missing one of their aces, a heavier burden fell to the rest of the starters, and they did not prove capable of shouldering such a load.
Burnett suffered a sports hernia early in the year. He was still able to pitch effectively in the first half, but the discomfort may have become too much for him as the season went on. Burnett was awful in the second half, and ended up leading the league in losses and walks. (These are generally not good categories to lead the league in.)
As for Kendrick, we saw much more of the “bad Kendrick” than the “good Kendrick.” His biggest problem was the first inning. He could rarely get out of the first frame unscathed, and would inevitably put the Phillies in a hole to start the game.
Surprisingly, Hernandez proved to be one of the team’s bright spots. He pitched about as well as could have been expected, and the Phillies were wisely able to “sell high” on him, flipping him to the Dodgers for a couple of prospects. Once Hernandez was traded, the Phillies found a quality replacement in journeyman Jerome Williams. For all the Phillies problems, the fifth starter spot was not one of them.
The Phillies might have still been okay had they possessed adequate depth in the rotation, but injuries also crippled the Phillies in that regard.
Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez were all seen as potential rotation options before the season. But each of them battled injuries and ineffectiveness and provided no value to the team.
They got a alight break when unheralded David Buchanan pitched surprisingly well, but even that wasn’t enough to overcome the disappointing performances by the remainder of the rotation.
Due to those factors, the Phillies finished 12th in the National League in starters ERA. Their supposed team strength turned out to be anything but.
The bullpen took some time to get going
Nothing covers up weak starting pitching like a good bullpen. If a team has strong relievers, then as long as the starting pitcher can provide anything close to a quality start, then the team should at least have a fighting chance to win.Antonio Bastardo
. Image Credit:Brad Mills
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As the season progressed, the Phillies’ bullpen did indeed become a team strength. Thanks to the mid-season emergence of Ken Giles and Justin De Fratus, combined with solid seasons from Jonathan Papelbon and Jake Diekman, the team actually had non-cringe-inducing late inning options.
Early in the season, that was not the case. There were several winnable games in the first half where the bullpen squandered leads. Remember Antonio Bastardo‘s Mother’s Day meltdown? And the less said about Phillippe Aumont‘s appearances, the better.
The offense: Youth was not served
Since the pitching was poor, the Phillies would have to win games on offense. Unfortunately, the days when the Phillies would lead the National League in runs scored are long in the past.
The team hoped that after two injury-plagued seasons, Ryan Howard would be healthy and productive again in 2014. Health was not a problem, as he played in 153 games. Unfortunately, a return to health did not bring about a return to his old levels of production.
I don’t think anyone expected to see Howard approach 50 home runs like he did in his prime. But there was hope that if he played a full season, he’d be able to match his more modest 2010-2011 numbers.
Instead, he only managed to hit 23 home runs. When the team’s primary cleanup hitter has a slugging percentage similar to the slap hitting leadoff man, that’s a huge problem.
The team did get solid seasons out of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. But these days, both men put up numbers that are considered “good for a middle infielder” rather than the “good for any player in baseball” numbers that they delivered in their primes. Yes, both men are still valuable players. But neither man should be counted on as a lineup-carrier anymore.Domonic Brown
. Image Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The man who the Phillies hoped would be the new centerpiece of the lineup failed miserably. In theory, Domonic Brown would have provided 30+ home run power from the cleanup spot. In reality, his offensive numbers slipped badly (only 10 home runs), and combined with horrible defense, he was actually one of the least valuable players in baseball.
Without that lineup carrying middle of the order presence, the decent numbers turned in by players like Ben Revere and Marlon Byrd were simply not enough to allow the Phillies to score runs on a regular basis.
The Phillies didn’t receive much in the way of positive surprises in 2014. There were only a few players who really exceeded expectations, and of those, only Ken Giles made more than a token impact on the team’s fortunes.
Those positive surprises weren’t nearly enough to compensate for the disappointing seasons turned in by key players like Lee, Burnett, Howard, and Brown.
As a result, the Phillies couldn’t come close to meeting even modest expectations, and ended up as a sad, last place team.