The first half has come and gone, and for the Phillies, it embodied a reoccurring theme of one step forward, two steps back.
After games, Ryne Sandberg started to sound like a broken record.
No consistency, lack of timely hits, so on and so forth …
The Phillies never found a rhythm.
“When we’ve had our good series and played our good games, we had offensive punch in there but it would turn overnight and turn cold,” Sandberg said after Sunday’s 10-3 loss to the Nationals. “That’s something, consistent offense and key hits, that’ll be needed in the remainder of games.”
And that’s been the Phillies’ downfall. A Jekyll and Hyde offense that ranks in the bottom five among baseball in runs (367 — tied for 25th), batting average (.238 — tied for 27th), batting average with runners in scoring position (.229 — 27th), on-base percentage (.300 — tied for 27th), slugging percentage (.362 — 29th) and total bases (1,196 — 29th) has put these aging 2014 Phillies 11 games under .500 (42-53) and muddled in last place.
Now, the club is up against the clock as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. What does the future hold? Who knows, but the Phillies have important decisions to make. With that said, let’s take a look back at the team’s first half.
Marlon Byrd and Ken Giles
Byrd was coming off a career 2013 season in which he hit 24 homers and knocked in 88 runs, but did anyone think he’d have 18 long balls at the break? That’s easily the most before the All-Star Game of his 12-year career. Barring injury or setback, Byrd should shatter his career high in home runs and may very well be doing it in another uniform. The Phillies would be silly not to shop the 36-year-old with his stock at its apex and the club needing to retool. Byrd’s contract is short and reasonable (two years, $16M) and contenders will be after him.
Giles, the flamethrower fans were pleading to see, got his chance and ran with it. The 23-year-old reliever has showcased his highly-publicized heater, but has excelled because of his slider. In 14 innings, Giles has allowed just one run (0.64 ERA) on seven hits, while striking out 18 and walking three. The righty has stud closer written all over him, and who knows, if Jonathan Papelbon is dealt — like he wants — Giles could get his chance to finish games.
Domonic Brown would be the easy choice here, right? But the Phillies desperately needed Howard to be more than just a shell of his former self, and sure, the power has been nice (15 HR, 56 RBIs), but for five years and $125 million, you can see why the 34-year-old has been collecting boos at Citizens Bank Park. Howard is hitting .220, and unlike Brown, is worse with runners in scoring position (.211). His 115 strikeouts are second-most in all of baseball to only B.J. Upton (116). He’s had a few power surges, but more stretches of disappearance. Howard has one homer since June 20, a span during which he’s hitting .156 in 24 games with six RBIs and 24 strikeouts. The Phillies since June 20 are 9-15 and now essentially out of the race. Brown has been disappointing, but the Phillies' offense needs Howard more than any other player. To pour salt on the wound, his contract handcuffs the club in a variety of ways.
Utley has said all the right things, is an ideal influence on the team’s youth, and to boot, he’s an All-Star again for the sixth time and first since 2010. There’s been plenty of eyebrow-raising remarks made from the Phillies’ locker room in the first half. The savvy Utley, however, knows what to say and when to say it. Notice he’s always the one to talk after a stomach-churning loss or lengthy losing streak? Utley has never envisioned leaving Philadelphia. He has no desire to waive his no-trade clause to go compete with a contender this season. He wants to be right here. In today’s game, popularly known as a business, that kind of loyalty is refreshing.
It’s safe to say fans wouldn’t be too distraught if Papelbon were shipped off at the deadline. Yup, the closer with a 1.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 22 saves is far from a fan favorite. That’s because the enigmatic Papelbon speaks freely and frankly, which doesn’t always jive with the city. Last week, Papelbon had no problem saying he was ready to jet if a contender came knocking (see quote below). So be it.
Jimmy Rollins’ record
Let’s go with Rollins passing Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt as the team's all-time hits leader. It was neat to see at Citizens Bank Park, especially with Schmidt on hand, lifting the arm of Rollins. It’s notably impressive given Schmidt’s pedigree and that the Phillies are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in professional sports. And not to be forgotten, Tony Gwynn Jr. receiving a standing ovation at Citizens Bank Park in his first at-bat since his father Tony Gwynn Sr.’s death. That was a touching moment and classy move by those in attendance.
Troubles at home
Utley on Sunday talked about how the Phillies used to thrive at Citizens Bank Park. That’s no longer the case. The Phillies have the third-worst home record in the majors this season at 19-29. Every time the Phillies had a momentum-building road trip or opportunity to gain steam in their park, they’d crash. Empty blue seats have symbolized the Phillies’ fall from division frontrunners to cellar dwellers.
Quotes to note
“I think the decisions have already been made, things that [the front office wants] to do. And regardless of how we play, they're still going to make their decisions for the future of the team. Not just for now. So we got out there, we play ball, we win, good things happen, and if that makes things difficult, then it does.”
- Jimmy Rollins, July 11
“Yeah. I think that’s a no-brainer. … Some guys want to stay on a losing team? That’s mind-boggling to me.”
- Jonathan Papelbon, July 9, on if a contender called at the trade deadline, would he be ready to leave Phillies