Somehow, Phillies worse in late innings than in 2012

Somehow, Phillies worse in late innings than in 2012

April 26, 2013, 11:15 am
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The Phillies enter the weekend with the 24th best record in baseball. Only five teams have been outscored by more runs. Only seven have scored fewer runs. Only five have allowed more runs.

It’s been an ugly, ugly start to a season that was supposed to be different from 2012. The Phillies added an eighth-inning man, the best one in baseball over the last five seasons. They had their injured superstars – Chase Utley and Ryan Howard – back. Cliff Lee couldn’t possibly be as unlucky as last year. Roy Halladay wouldn’t be shelved for seven weeks again. Offensive production was expected from third base. Speed and havoc would come from center field. Development would come from left field. The best pieces of a bad bullpen last year were back, and the worst pieces were gone.

And yet through 23 games, it looks like the same exact team.

Howard hasn’t shown enough power.

The Phillies have OK numbers with runners in scoring position, but ask anyone who’s watched the games and they’ll tell you this has been a terrible situational team.

The bullpen has twice as many losses (six) as holds (three). They’re striking out a batter per inning, but allowing more baserunners (1.48) than any ‘pen in the majors.

Walks have been a problem for Phillippe Aumont, who is one of only two major-league pitchers with at least 65 balls in fewer than 150 pitches. Walks have been a problem for Chad Durbin. They’ve even been a problem for Mike Adams, who already has two losses after averaging two per season from 2009-12.

The area that was supposed to be fixed – the eighth inning – hasn’t been. No NL team has allowed more eighth-inning runs than the Phillies.

The main problem, though, is that the Phillies aren’t building large enough leads to feel comfortable in the late innings. The bullpen has failed more often than it has succeeded, but maybe if it had a little more breathing room things would be different.

The offense is falling flat in the middle innings. In 23 games, the Phils have scored a mere 19 runs in innings 4-6. The average major-league team has scored 32. No team has been worse than the Phillies in this regard.

It would be OK if the Phillies were making up for that in innings 7-9, but they’re not. They have a .252 on-base percentage in the last three innings of games – worst in the National League. They have nine walks and 59 strikeouts. Guys don’t take pitches. Stop us if you’ve heard that before.

Can any of this be fixed?

Depends on your level of optimism. The walks issue is going to be there all season, for two reasons: 1) the Phillies are one of the game’s least disciplined teams at the plate, and 2) pitchers don’t fear the home run ball enough to stop challenging them.

In the late innings especially, that is a major problem. There are, what, three players on this team who can maintain high batting averages? Utley, Michael Young and maybe Ben Revere, although he’s shown very little offensively in the first month. So you’re relying on hits and hits alone to put guys on, and since you’re not homering much it then takes a few more hits to plate runs and make up deficits.

Maybe when Carlos Ruiz comes back the dynamic of the lineup will change. But for now, this is a team missing a thumper in the five-hole and a guy who walks at the top of the order. Maybe then they can build bigger leads so their aces can actually get decisions, but until then it’s extremely difficult to look at this team with its .301 on-base percentage and envision a playoff run.

It's difficult to do what the Phillies have done -- put together an $160 million payroll that doesn't even look capable of winning 80 games. Something needs to change soon. If it doesn’t, a lot of things are going to change in the last week of July.

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