Phillies Hit All-Star Break With Another Loss

Things were not expected to go well for the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club in the 2015 season. But the rate at which they actually lost games over the last two months has proved stunning to many of their fans, still emotionally attached to a team that was a big winner not that long ago.

The San Francisco Giants, defending World Series champions, had entered this past weekend’s series in a bit of a tailspin. The Giants had lost 8 of 9 games, and fallen from a single game to five games out in the NL West race. And then these Phillies arrived by the bay, providing just the level of competition that a struggling team needs to right its own ship.

The Giants swept the Phillies out of San Francisco, taking the three games by a combined score of 27-9, following Sunday’s 4-2 victory in the series finale. It was, mercifully, the final game before the MLB All-Star Game break. Phillies fans will now get a respite from the constant losing – for the next four days.

That losing has been at historic levels in the two months since the team ended its lone real winning streak of note in this season of discontent. In mid-May, the Phils entertained the home fans at Citizens Bank Park with 5 consecutive wins, and then headed out on a 10-game, 3-city road trip that itself did not start out badly.

The club won the first game on that road trip in Colorado behind Cole Hamels, stretching their winning streak out to 6 games. Through the first half-dozen games of two series, with the Rockies and then the Washington Nationals, the Phils had split the games 3-3.

They sat at 19-26 on the morning of Sunday, May 24th, following an 8-1 thrashing of the Nats, again behind Hamels. And then the bottom began to drop out. They lost the series finale that day in Washington, were swept in New York by the Mets, and staggered home with a 3-7 road trip record.

Back home in Philly for a 9-game home stand that ended May and opened June, the club dropped six. And then the bottom that had dropped became a seeming bottomless pit. They suffered through an 8-game, 3-city road trip to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore losing all eight games.

Since the end of that 6-game May winning streak, the team has now gone 12-39, a dismal .235 winning percentage. Their overall record of 29-62 represents the most losses that any Phillies team has had at the All-Star break in the 82 years since the Mid-Summer Classic began in 1933.

This is a truly historic losing pace, and it’s one that may not slow after the break ends. Trade rumors continue to swirl around the club’s top starting pitcher, Hamels, its lone All-Star in closer Jonathan Papelbon, and outfielder Ben Revere. The latter leads the club in Runs, Steals, and Batting Average.

Our starters have to give us more length. If they do that, I think we’re going to be OK, we’re going to be much better in the second half” ~ Phils’ skipper Mackanin

Take those three out of the equation at some point in the next few weeks, and the losses are likely to mount at an even greater pace. With them, at the pace created over the last two months, this Phillies team is easily headed towards the first 100-loss season by the franchise since 1961. The franchise record of 111 losses could potentially fall by the time it’s all over.

When the losses are this numerous, there is no key culprit. Much has been made of the horrendous starting pitching, and that segment of the team has indeed been awful. On Sunday, Chad Billingsley (1-3) lasted just 5 innings in which he was rocked for 10 hits, including a big fourth inning 3-run homer by Giants’ rookie catcher Andrew Susac that would prove the difference.

But the offense has been just as inept. They managed just 2 runs yesterday against Giants’ rookie hurler Chris Heston (9-5), none until the 7th inning. It was the 34th time in their 91 games that the team has been held to 2 or fewer runs. They were shutout on Opening Day, a harbinger of things to come. It was the first of 8 games prior to the break that the offense would not score at all.

Former MVP and slugging hero Ryan Howard drove in both Phillies runs with singles in the 7th and 9th innings. The ‘Big Piece’ is hitting just .226 with a .270 on-base percentage. But he came into the season in tremendous physical shape, appears fully healthy for the first time in the last 3-4 years, and has regained a measure of his power stroke. Howard reaches the break with 15 homers and 45 RBI, both leading the team by a wide margin.

Interim manager Pete Mackanin, taking one for the team as a good organizational soldier once former skipper Ryne Sandberg leaped from his sinking ship before it went down, continues trying to remain positive for the future, including the short-term of the 2nd half.

Pitching and defense, it’s the old cliche,” Mackanin said, as reported at Philly.com by Ryan Lawrence. “That’s how you win baseball games. But it’s so true. Our starters have to give us more length. If they do that, I think we’re going to be OK, we’re going to be much better in the second half.

During and following the break, the spotlight is going to begin shining even more intently on Hamels, Papelbon, Revere and even players such as Howard, Billingsley, outfielder Jeff Francoeur, and catcher Carlos Ruiz, any or all of whom could be dealt away in the 2+ weeks that remain prior to the MLB non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st.

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