Phillies 2016: What We Learned in the First Week

ethanwitte
Apr 6, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola throws against the Philadelphia Phillies during the second inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola throws against the Philadelphia Phillies during the second inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadelphia Phillies have completed the first full week of the 2016 Major League Baseball season.

With that first week over and the team standing at two wins and four losses, what is it that we have learned as fans? Perhaps not much, as small sample sizes tend to skew numbers in certain directions. For instance, reliever James Russell isn’t going to have a 54.00 ERA all year long. However, here are a few brief observations that we can perhaps note heading into the second full week of 2016 baseball in Philadelphia.


BULLPEN MIGHT NOT BE VERY GOOD

Much has already been written about how bad the bullpen has performed to start the season. Phillies relievers entered Sunday’s game with the highest collective ERA in the game, and it hasn’t been particularly fun to actually watch either.

There have been some bright spots, such as Hector Neris‘ two inning relief stint in Sunday’s victory over the Mets, and Jeanmar Gomez locking down his first two save opportunities thus far. Other than that, it hasn’t been really good and doesn’t project to get much better.

As I wrote last week, many of these current pitchers are ones that can be easily disposed of, if they continue to perform poorly. There shouldn’t be too much worry. However, if the bullpen does continue to blow late leads, one does have to wonder what it will do to the psyche of the young starters on the team.


STARTERS ACTUALLY ARE PRETTY GOOD

Apr 8, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Eickhoff (48) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. (Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Apr 8, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Eickhoff (48) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at Citi Field. (Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports) /

So far on this young season, the most pleasant result has to be the performance of the starting pitching. Outside of one poor start from Charlie Morton, the collective group has been effective at getting hitters out and limiting damage when in trouble.

Jeremy Hellickson (three runs given up in 11.2 innings) has led the team thus far with a pair of Quality Starts, and the team has to be encouraged by what youngsters Aaron Nola (one run in seven innings), Vincent Velasquez (six innings of no run, nine strikeout ball), and Jerad Eickhoff (five innings, three runs) have done in their 2016 debuts.

While Morton did struggle, his spring performance and career track record portend a likelihood to turn it around and be at worst an average big league starting pitcher option.

With so much youth on the staff, it is fair to wonder if these kind of performances will be the norm or just an outlier. Given their track records in the minors, it’s easy to be encouraged that this year’s starting pitchers will be nowhere near as bad as those run out by the club in much of 2015.


THE BIG PIECE IS NOT DEAD YET!

Sure, it’s only 17 at-bats, and recent history isn’t on his side, nor is Father Time. However, it is nice to see that Howard has demonstrated, at least to start the season, both power and patience at the plate.

Apr 9, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Howard (6) watches his home run while rounding the bases during the fifth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. (Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
Apr 9, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Howard (6) watches his home run while rounding the bases during the fifth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. (Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports) /

Yes, it’s only two walks. Yes, it’s only two home runs. But think about your expectations for Howard entering the season. The whole world was quite aware that he would be entering into a platoon situation at 1st base with Darin Ruf. He would have to do his damage in a part-time role, something he has never had to do in his career. He’s been on a steady decline the past few years, leading fans to beg for his release in order to get younger players more at bats.

All of this being said, did anyone think Howard would contribute anything this year, especially in April, which has historically been his worst month? Watching Howard hit a home run Saturday night, and going the opposite way to boot, shows that there still might be something left in the Big Piece, provided he is exposed to the pitchers to whom he should be exposed.

It’s foolhardy to expect 30+ home runs this year, particularly if manager Pete Mackanin sticks with his platoon plan. Yet, if Howard continues to face mostly right-handers, there’s no reason he can’t be a positive force in the lineup.


OUTFIELD NEEDS REINFORCEMENTS – SOON!

It’s been ugly so far. Take a look (small sample size applies):

More from That Balls Outta Here

Odubel Herrera: 4 for 22, one home run, three walks, six strikeouts
Peter Bourjos: 3 for 18, two doubles, one walk, two strikeouts
Cedric Hunter: 2 for 18, one home run, one walk, four strikeouts
Tyler Goeddel: 0 for 5, four strikeouts

For those of you counting at home, that’s a collective 9 for 63 (.143 BA) with 4 extra-base hits, five walks, and 16 strikeouts.

While we can reasonably expect Herrera and, to a lesser extent, Bourjos to come around, Hunter and Goeddel look completely overmatched. We all knew this could be an offensively unproductive outfield, but this situation is almost untenable.

Reinforcements will be needed soon, but it remains in the team’s best longterm interest not to rush top prospects Nick Williams and Roman Quinn until they are absolutely ready to roll. Until that time arrives, Phillies fans will have to be content with watching the current mediocre group trotted out night after night.

It’s still early, and there have been glimmers of hope to lead fans to believe that it won’t be as bad as last’s worst record in MLB season. Here’s hoping the next few weeks bring about more of the good news than the bad, and that progress continues to be seen as the rebuilding plan moves forward.

Next: Series Preview: Padres at Phillies

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