The Philadelphia Phillies lost again to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park to continue a horrendous losing stretch of games.
You are going to hear about the Phillies current seven game losing streak in news and sports broadcasts, and read about it on the internet.
You are also going to hear about how the Phils have now lost 11 of their last 12 games. But as bad as these two losing periods would be, the reality is that this is no losing streak.
No, what the Phillies are experiencing right now is a major, overdue course correction in their season that has taken them back to where the active roster talent level says they truly belong.
This was never going to be a contending team, despite the fact that a 4-3 win on Saturday, May 14th against the Cincinnati Reds lifted them seven games over the .500 mark at 24-17.
On that afternoon, for a brief few hours, the Phillies actually found themselves tied with the Washington Nationals for first place in the National League East Division.
The Phillies had not reached these heights since the start of June in 2012. Not the winning record and the place in the standings. For those you would have to reach back to the end of the 2011 regular season.
But the last time that Phillies fans could legitimately be excused for being fooled into thinking that their team was a real contender would have probably been on Friday, June 1st in that 2012 season.
On that night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies were returning home to open a seven game homestand. They had just won five of seven on a tough road trip through Saint Louis and at the division rival New York Mets.
Kyle Kendrick beat Mark Buehrle with the help of a Hunter Pence home run. Pence was joined by Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz with three-hit nights as the Phils downed the Fish by a 6-4 score.
It was the streaking Phillies’ 7th win in 9 games, and raised them to a season-high three games over the .500 mark. They were in last place in the division, but were now just 2.5 games behind the leaders.
Fans not only saw the winning streak and the return towards the top of the division race, but were also comforted by the fact that their team had won the previous five consecutive NL East crowns.
That roster had a pitching rotation that was still fronted by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. At that point, Jimmy Rollins was still a vital 33-year old who was in the midst of a 23-homer, 30-steal season.
Unfortunately, that was as close as that Phillies team would come. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were battling injuries, Halladay would end up with his own physical issues, and the team began to sink.
That Friday night win over Miami to reach their high-water mark would prove the only one in the homestand. They would lose the next six straight to the Marlins and Dodgers, and they were effectively out of it.
At the trade deadline, having sunk to 16.5 games out, they dealt away both Pence and Victorino, and the transformation of the once-mighty roster had begun.
In many ways, that transformation is still going on today, four years later. The two final pieces to that roster remain on the team today in Howard and Ruiz, though both are clearly in their final weeks of the mostly glorious Phillies portion of their careers.
The Phillies have used many of those players to bring in pieces of what they hope will be their next contending team. Pence brought back Tommy Joseph, and then there were the pieces brought back in the trades of Rollins, Hamels, and former closer Ken Giles.
But that next contending team is not here yet. The players who are manning the starting lineup positions at this time are clearly a majority of placeholder types, guys who will be no more than bench players, if that, for a contending team.
Shortstop Freddy Galvis, 2nd baseman Cesar Hernandez, catcher Cameron Rupp, and the corner outfielders, guys like Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos, and David Lough are included in that “placeholder” or backup group.
Their lack of real offensive talent while receiving major plate appearance totals is the primary reason that the Phillies cannot generate sustained offense.
The Phillies are last in Major League Baseball in runs scored, hits, doubles, and both batting average and on-base percentage. The team is 29th in both OPS, total bases, and slugging percentage, and is just 27th in home runs.
Where the Phillies offensive attack is concerned, there is no “there” there. It is non-existent. In fact, I should stop using the word “attack” when describing them. However, their lineup can certainly be described as “offensive”, at least to fans forced to watch by their love of the game and the team.
In general, teams across MLB are averaging just over four runs scored per game. That is an average, as in what they score MOST games. The Phillies have played 71 games after today’s 3-1 loss to Arizona. They have reached four runs just 26 times, or in fewer than 37% of their games.
So the Phillies cannot produce enough runs in roughly 2/3 of their games to even have a chance. They have scored two runs or fewer in 30 games, or more than 42% of the matchups. Quite simply, this team as currently constructed simply cannot compete.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the lengthy track records dating back through their Major League time and into their minor league experience to make any reasonable evaluator claim with any authenticity that these players can suddenly “turn it around” – there is nothing to turn around. They are what they are.
So what is a fan to do? The answer is simple. Forget about that hot five-week stretch, and get realistic. Remember what this season was supposed to be all about when it all began.
Most prognosticators picked this Phillies team to once again challenge for the bottom of the MLB overall standings. That is proving true, as there are now just five teams who still have a worse record than the Phils’ 30-41 mark.
What we wanted to see as this season unfolded was the eventual emergence of a few of the top prospects from the minor leagues, and to see those prospects succeeding while they were still down on the farm.
We also hoped for a chance to say goodbye to Howard and Ruiz, two genuine heroes from a world championship team, perhaps with their riding off into the sunset of one final shot at another crown with trades to contending teams.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we wanted to see the young players who were already here establish themselves as foundational for that future contention. Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, and perhaps even Jerad Eickhoff.
That has proven a mixed bag. Herrera has largely been fabulous. ‘El Torito’ is hitting .302 with a .400 on-base percentage, is tied for third on the team with seven home runs, and leads the club with both 36 runs scored and nine stolen bases. He has been the good part of the mixed bag.
Franco has been the bad part. He has shown power, leading the team with 11 longballs and 33 RBI. But he is struggling mightily to put together consistent at-bats, and has just a .236/.281/.409 slash line. Those numbers are simply unacceptable for a player of his talent level.
The two pitchers have been up and down, but are clearly the two most consistent starting pitchers on the team.
Nola is 5-6 with a 3.51 ERA, and has allowed 77 hits in 84.2 innings with a 93/19 K:BB ratio. Eickhoff is 4-9 with a 3.49 ERA, having yielded 83 hits over 85 innings with a 73/20 K:BB ratio.
What do we have in arms like Vincent Velasquez and Hector Neris? These are pitchers who clearly can be dominant, but who also have gone through long bouts with inconsistency. The jury is still out for me, but I do like the talent, and very often, genuine talent will prove out in the long haul.
On the mound, Adam Morgan has clearly shown that he is not a big league starting pitcher. I don’t believe that he is even a viable 5th starter, certainly not on a contending team.
And after all, that is what we are looking for at this point, no? We are done with mediocre players who are helping the Phillies tread water until the top prospects come and begin building towards winning.
What we Phillies fans are looking for is the arrival of those players: J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn and others in the lineup, Jake Thompson and others in the rotation.
When these players arrive in bulk, then we will have something of interest to watch. Until then, enjoy Phillies baseball because you like the game. But lower your expectations, and don’t allow anyone to sell you a bill of goods.
This is not a simple losing streak. It is a major course correction towards the bottom of the MLB standings for the 2016 Phillies. They are not likely to continue losing at quite this poor a pace, but lose more than win, they will. Until that roster changes in bulk.