The Phillies’ two biggest issues last year were getting on base and holding opponents in the eighth inning. One of those problems appeared to be corrected this past winter. The other didn’t.
They’re failing in both areas again.
The Phillies have a .305 team on-base percentage. Since 2000, only one of 53 National League playoff teams has had an OBP under .320 - last year’s Reds, who mashed 172 homers.
An even more ominous sign is this: In the history of the National League, only two teams have ever reached the playoffs with an OBP of .305 or lower. Those two teams? The 1968 Cardinals - who had Bob Gibson break the ERA record - and the 1988 Dodgers, who had Orel Hershiser set the record for consecutive scoreless innings.
Those were two of the best pitching staffs ever. This is not.
The Phillies’ OBP issues have been as predictable as the outcome after a two-strike count on Ryan Howard. This was a team built around free-swingers, as if that type of mentality wins in today’s game.
Ben Revere doesn’t walk. Delmon Young rarely sees more than two pitches in an at-bat. Howard continues to flail at high fastballs and low-and-away breaking balls. When you looked at this team in February you saw an offense that was going to need to maintain a high batting average or hit an inordinate number of home runs to be successful.
That hasn’t happened. The Phils had a 14-game home run streak broken on Tuesday – their longest since September 2008 - but they went just 7-7 in that span because so many were solo homers. It’s hard to hit a three-run homer when the bases are empty 70 percent of the time.
This is a glaring flaw, and it’s very strange that it is seemingly meaningless to the Phillies’ decision-makers. It’s easy to say you’d like to see guys have good at-bats and get on base, but when mostly every action brings in the antithesis of that, those words lose meaning.
The problematic eighth
Last season the Phillies were 29th in baseball in eighth-inning ERA. Only the Astros were worse.
After Tuesday’s eighth-inning debacle, the Phils’ eighth-inning ERA ballooned to 5.63. That ranks 29th in baseball. Only the Astros are worse.
Mike Adams hasn’t been healthy. He missed several weeks in May with a back strain and is currently pitching through bicep soreness and shoulder stiffness. His velocity isn’t there - it’s down 2-3 mph - and his command has completely disappeared. Adams has walked 4.6 batters per nine innings this season. He walked 2.4 per nine from 2009-12.
Last season Adams threw a first-pitch strike more than 63 percent of the time. This season he’s done it to just 54 percent of his opponents.
A lot of it is mechanical. Adams admitted last week that he’s developed a bad habit of falling off the mound on each pitch and said he’s in the process of correcting it. Tuesday against the Twins, he was still falling off to the left side of the mound on each and every pitch.
That also prevents him from fielding his position. On any ball back up the middle, Adams has to hope his middle infielders can cover enough ground.
The two-year, $12 million signing just hasn’t worked out so far. Ruben Amaro Jr. can be faulted for many things, but bringing in Adams is not one. It was a move that met universal praise based on Adams’ track record. How was he to know that Adams, who previously had impeccable control, would forget how to throw strikes?
In any event, the Phillies are 31-34, just like they were through 65 games last season. Amaro said earlier this week that "there's no blowing up" this team. But how can you look at a group of aging veterans who haven't been healthy or productive in quite a while and see any other solution?