The Phillies have gotten off to a not unexpected slow start, struggling along with a 4-9 record after two full weeks of the 2015 season. That they are not in the basement of the NL East, at least not yet, is merely thanks to the similar struggles of the Miami Marlins, who have a record of 3-10 thus far.
The offense has been the main culprit for these Phillies. The team has scored just 32 runs in those 13 games, an average of just 2.46 per contest. That won’t win you many games to begin with, but it’s not as if the club’s starting rotation has been making things easy either.
Now in the midst of their 3rd go-around the rotation, the 5 starting pitchers utilized thus far have a combined 2-8 record, which can partially be blamed on the lack of offense. But the bats cannot be blamed for the 4.875 ERA that the rotation has thus far produced. The biggest culprits are perhaps the two most surprising: staff lefty ace Cole Hamels, and young 2nd year righty David Buchanan.
Hamels is 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA that is almost exclusively created by the incredible 7 long balls that he has thus far surrendered. That figure equals the total number of homeruns allowed by the entire rest of his rotation mates combined. Otherwise, his 18-9 K:BB ratio is a bit high, but his 12 total hits allowed keep his WHIP at a solid 1.17 mark. Buchanan has just been awful across his three starts, going 0-3, with the only thing he hasn’t allowed being those homers. While he has kept the ball in the yard, he has also allowed a staggering 22 hits and walked 9 batters in just 13.2 innings pitched, creating his bloated 2.27 WHIP mark.
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The surprising star of the rotation to this point has been free agent signee Aaron Harang. The big righthander turns 37 years old on May 9th, but he is not showing any deterioration in his skills, at least to this point. Harang is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, allowing just 13 hits in his 18.1 innings while putting together a fine 15-5 K:BB ratio.
Both Jerome Williams and Sean O’Sullivan have pitched just twice. But with manager Ryne Sandberg already announcing that, despite an off-day in the schedule today, the rotation will stay on schedule, those two will be first up in the series beginning tomorrow night at home against the Miami Marlins.
Williams has been whacked around to the tune of a 4.09 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, allowing 15 hits in his 11 innings, including 3 homeruns. O’Sullivan has been a tick better, pitching to a 4.91 ERA but just a 1.18 WHIP thanks to his allowing just 10 hits in 11 innings. Neither pitcher has beaten themselves, having combined for a 14-5 K:BB ratio.
So aside from the unexpectedly good news on Harang, the rest of the Phils rotation has been mediocre at best, and downright awful at times. Hamels in particular must quickly shake off his usual slow start, keep the ball down more consistently, and begin to become the reliable ace at the top.
The importance of Hamels shaking his early season bout of gopherball-itis cannot be overstated. The team is expecting that at some point, some other club will break down and give in with a quality multi-prospect package in trade for the former NLCS and World Series MVP. As other club’s realize their own options are not pennant-quality, such opportunities will arise. Hamels needs to perform at a level that will make him the most attractive option on the market, and soon.
It is probable that the bottom three arms in Buchanan, Williams, and O’Sullivan are now pitching for their jobs, with Chad Billingsley getting closer to an expected May promotion. The former Dodgers workhorse has made two starts at AAA Lehigh Valley already, allowing 6 hits in 8 innings with a 7:3 K:BB ratio.
Expect Billingsley to get at least 3 more starts for the IronPigs, building up innings and pitch counts, before the Phillies bring him back to the majors. That would mean about two more weeks, 2-3 starts each, for a couple of the guys on the back-end of the rotation to separate themselves and secure jobs going forward.
The Phillies are not going to be winning many games in 2015 in any event. The offense is simply too weak. No matter how strong the rotation could become, it won’t make a big difference. But getting more consistent outings from them, more quality starts, will win a few more games, and make the team much more tolerable to follow over a long summer.