The Philadelphia Phillies open a three game Interleague Series in Minnesota, and a super-utility player may be their biggest roadblock to success.
It is really the only word that I can come up with at this point to properly describe what we are watching night in and night out on the baseball field.
We just witnessed our Philadelphia Phillies have an entire homestand swept right out from under them. The Toronto Blue Jays walked over the Phils in a short two game set, which laid the groundwork for what the Arizona Diamondbacks did in their wrap around series at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Phillies were outscored in those six home games by a combined score of 42-9.
That is a college football score between an SEC powerhouse and one of the joke schools which those teams each face six times each fall. It certainly should not be the score differential for a six game homestand in baseball. Yet it is becoming our reality as summer begins and the warm June days roll on towards July.
As we move into the next series and reach the halfway mark of the regular season, I felt as though I should be graded on my predictions for these series picks. Moving forward, I will grade myself on the previous pick based on each “Roadblock” performance, and the Phillies on how they were able to handle said pick.
My Arizona “Opposition Roadblock” Paul Goldschmidt: 3 games played; 6-14 (.428); 1 BB and 3 Ks; 3 RBIs, 2 HRs, and 5 runs scored. It was really an easy pick, so his numbers are not a surprise whatsoever. As a result, I give myself a B+.
Phillies: He had some devastating at bats and had his way with them. However, there were moments the Phillies were able to keep him from doing further damage. Eflin did a really nice job with him overall on Sunday. Phils team grade: C-.
As the Phillies move into Minnesota for a three game set against a Twins team with the worst record in baseball, I wish I was more confident. I am actually terrified for them.
The Phillies are putting up historically bad offensive numbers. And we are not talking only franchise history here. We are talking about in the setting of big league baseball history.
While Minnesota is a really bad team with a worse record, the Phillies are not even close to a guarantee to win this series. After losing seven straight (six at home), the Phillies could use this series as a way to get back on track, but I also thought that about the series against the Diamondbacks.
The Twins have an interesting mix of players to choose from, and with youth and veterans sprinkled throughout their lineup, they expected to compete this year. It has not happened, in large part due to the lack of performance from some budding prospects.
Miguel Sano (71 strikeouts in 179 ABs) and Byron Buxton (.194 in 108 ABs; 49 K’s to 4 BB) are the prime suspects. In order for Minnesota to have been competitive, they needed those two top prospects to jump right in the mix. They have not, and the Twins have suffered immensely. Sano is now on the disabled list, to add injury to insult.
However, one player who has been much more than expected in terms of performance is Eduardo Nunez. The 29-year old super-utility infielder is slashing .321/.351/.485 with nine home runs in 237 at-bats over the first three months of the season.
Nunez is currently tied with Brian Dozier for first on the team in runs scored (33) and his 25 RBI ranks third on the team behind Sano (27) and both Dozier and wildly popular hometown superstar Joe Mauer (26).
Nunez was once a highly touted prospect in the New York Yankees organization, advertised as Derek Jeter‘s replacement when he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2004.
In 2010, he was named the Yankees’ Kevin Lawn Award winner as their organizational Minor League Player of the Year. Nunez then spent parts of 2011 and 2012 as a utility infielder for Bronx Bombers.
However, still viewing Nunez as an eventual everyday shortstop, it was not long until the Yankees sent him back to Scranton (AAA) to gain regular work at the position.
After that, the now 29-year old never caught on in New York’s system. The Yankees brass changed their minds on him again, making him a utility option in 2013 and 2014. When he did not perform in spring of 2014, the Yankees designated Nunez for assignment.
The Twins were waiting with open arms for Nunez, hoping to bolster their own lineup. They acquired him in a deal at the start of April of 2014.
In 2015, Nunez played the full season in Minnesota, and in 72 games at four different positions, Nunez hit 282/.327/.431 with four HR and 20 RBI. It was not mind-blowing, but it was enough for the Twins to avoid arbitration with Nunez to the tune of $1.475 million.
Nunez has earned every penny thus far. His at bats have mainly come at shortstop (126), but he also has 109 at-bats across DH, 3rd base, and 2nd base.
The right-handed batter was scorching hot throughout the first two months of the season, but has cooled down in June (.282/.317/.436), but remains a consistent contributor in comparison to many of his teammates.
While he is much better against left-handed pitching (.340/.357/.679), which could prove trouble for Adam Morgan in the middle game, Nunez does not struggle when facing right-handed arms.
Nunez is slashing a more than respectable .351/.349/.429 against righties, with four homers and 17 RBI. He has struck out 27 times in 184 of those at-bats, which again is very tolerable when compared to some of his comrades.
Nunez sprays the ball all over the field. He has the ability to wait back and hit the ball the other way and does not become pull happy whatsoever. He hits a ton of line drives to the opposite field. According to Fangraphs, Nunez has hit 34 line drives this season, 19 of which have gone varied from center field to right.
Against both righties and lefties, Nunez likes the ball out over the plate. He likes pitches at his knees that he can more easily get on top of and drive the other way. However, he does tend to have a bad tendency to chase pitches outside of the zone.
It looks as if Adam Morgan will have one more shot to start before Vincent Velasquez returns, but his chase pitches are not as difficult to hit as the aforementioned two. And again, Nunez can punish left-handers.
One thing is for certain, the Phillies need to pick up a couple of wins in Minnesota and regain some equilibrium. Keeping Nunez at bay would be a good place to start.