What is the Philadelphia Phillies’ common denominator of failure?
The Philadelphia Phillies are astounding, confounding, baffling in their constant failure. They are consistent only in their inconsistency.
On a road trip during which they took two of three from the Seattle Mariners and three of four from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies looked like the commanding team they could be. Should be.
Then they returned home and back to reality, narrowly avoiding being swept by the San Diego Padres and the Dodgers, who came to exact revenge. The Phillies’ woes continued with a series split against the Atlanta Braves, which included a heartbreaking walk-off loss, and now they’re in New York and in danger of being swept by the Mets.
As of Sunday morning, the Phillies are 21-26, third in the NL East, and nine and a half games out of first place. They’ve been walked off on twice, shut out five times, and been the victims of a (combined) no-hitter.
And it’s not even June.
So who is to blame?
Joe Girardi can shoulder plenty of blame, but he’s managed less than two full seasons. He doesn’t feel like the right fit for the team, but their long history of losing predates him. If they fire him and the team keeps losing, then what?
The same can be said for their president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski. The longtime executive has an impressive resumé of building postseason teams, even if it costs an arm, a leg, and the entire farm system. The team he built on paper should be better than they are, and he convinced ownership to exceed the luxury tax threshold for the first time in franchise history in order to construct it; it’s hard to fault him, either.
If you’re blaming Bryce Harper, you should probably turn in your baseball fan membership right now. He carried this team last year, and now he’s carrying them again, this time, with a tear in his UCL. Maybe the rest of the woefully inconsistent lineup, though.
It’s hard to complain about the starting rotation, which is tied for fifth-most quality starts and is way down at 17th when it comes to giving up home runs. Zack Wheeler had a 1.69 ERA over his four May starts, while Aaron Nola has thrown five or more innings in all but one of his 10 starts thus far.
The bullpen isn’t perfect, but they’re vastly improved from last year’s waking nightmare. The 2021 arm barn led MLB in blown saves for almost the entire season and tied the all-time record with 34. More than once, they even blew multiple saves in the same game. Currently, the bullpen is tied for second-fewest blown saves, with only four, miles away from the Boston Red Sox’ league-leading 12. Seranthony Dominguez has rebounded from two years of injuries to post a 2.12 ERA over 18 appearances; pricy addition Corey Knebel isn’t far off with a 2.89 ERA over 19 appearances, including 18 games finished and eight of the team’s 10 saves. Brad Hand’s 1.46 ERA over 19 appearances is the best on the team.
Want to blame the farm system? You can try, but this is the first year they’ve improved in the rankings since 2017. Rebuilding a farm system as blighted as the Phillies’ takes time, but it’s clearly happening. And don’t forget, Dombrowski has a history of drafting some of the best players of the last few decades, including Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Josh Beckett, Andrew Miller, and Curtis Granderson. Knebel and Nick Castellanos were also his picks.
So what is the common denominator of the Phillies’ failure? It’s hard to pinpoint because it’s a little different each year. It makes predicting their trade deadline role so impossible, though with every loss, they look more like soon-to-be-sellers than buyers.
But no matter what they do or don’t do, the overarching underachieving issue remains, and it’s hard to see how things get better. It’s not like they’re not spending; the Phils have one of the highest payrolls in the league. The farm system is improving, the player development office is stacked with talent poached from the best organizations in the game. The lineup is full of sluggers and the pitching arsenal has a fair amount of flame-throwers.
Ultimately, you can blame everything and nothing. There’s plenty wrong with this team, and plenty that’s right. It’s an unsolvable puzzle in which all the pieces look the same and should fit together but don’t.
The question is, what will finally fix the Phillies?