Inside the Box Score: Life Without Utley and Howard

Inside the Box Score: Life Without Utley and Howard

Everybody was bracing for a reduction in run production with the Phillies this season. Four games in, it's even worse than many imagined.

The Fightins have managed to scrounge together a paltry eight runs in 37 innings this season. That total is good for dead last in scoring in the National League, and only half a run per game ahead of the Minnesota Twins for worst in all of Major League Baseball.

Some folks are preaching patience, because after all, it is only four games. That said, while the Phils likely can't keep up the current pace, which would set a record for offensive futility over a 162-game season, there is little reason to believe things are going to magically turn around at the plate.

Not until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return anyway. Without their five-time All Star second baseman, or the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player at first, the Phillies are getting next to nothing out of the right side of the infield in the early goings.

Second base is one thing. Freddy Galvis has started all four games in place of Utley so far, going 1-for-13 with a walk in 14 plate appearances -- good for the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the clubhouse. Additionally, they've had trouble turning the lineup over when Galvis bats eighth. The pitcher's spot led off an inning six times in the first two games against Pittsburgh.

At least he has an excuse though. Galvis is a rookie who had all of 33 Triple A appearances under his belt prior to making his big league debut on Opening Day. We were already dealing in lowered expectations until Utley gets back.

Simply put, first base is a mess.

Who's On First?
Charlie Manuel has already started four different players through four games. The combination of John Mayberry, Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton has come up with four hits and two walks in 29 total plate appearances, wherever they happen to be playing that day.

Officially, the position is 2-for-16 with one run scored, no walks, and no RBIs. The first baseman had come up fifth in the order for the Pirates series, but was dropped down to six against the Marlins on Monday.

Plus, defensive lapses at the bag have cost Philly as well -- which, of course, has nothing to do with run production, but is quickly becoming a problem all the same.

On Sunday, Wigginton dropped a throw from Brian Schneider that would have made it two outs and none on in the seventh inning. Instead, the runner was safe, and Pittsburgh wound up scoring two in the frame, helping launch their eventual come-from-behind victory in the ninth.

Against Miami on Monday, Mayberry inexplicably backed up Cole Hamels on a bunt, then watched as the pitcher gunned the ball to the imaginary man at first base. The runner advanced to third on the error, and eventually came across for an insurance run in the sixth.

Howard may not be the greatest defensive first baseman ever, but he usually catches the ball, and at least knows where he's supposed to be.

Mainly they're missing his pop though, and not just the long ball. Without Howard and Utley in the lineup, the Phils have seemingly lost the ability to score quickly in any situation.

Extras Base Hits
The Phillies have four extra base hits this year, the lowest total in baseball. Hunter Pence has two. Mayberry has one. Galvis, as you probably heard, has the other -- it was arguably the biggest hit of the season so far, which is saying something.

By contrast, look at the top of the order. Shane Victornio has four hits, none for extra bases. Placido Polanco doesn't have any either, although that shouldn't come as much of a surprise -- he went the entire 2011 season with fewer than 20 XBHs. And Jimmy Rollins, who bats third now remember... you get the idea.

The only game in which the Phils scored more than two runs just happens to be the only game where they had multiple extra base knocks, which most likely is not a coincidence.

It's difficult to score runs when you're only ever advancing one base at a time. The Fightins can play small ball all they like, and if they do it right, they'll even win some games. Had they managed to manufacture one more run in either loss to the Pirates, they might have swept the series -- and the opportunities were there.

That was the Pirates though. The Marlins drove the ball on Monday. They found gaps, and yes, they even went yard a few times. They were able to strike quickly, producing runs out of one or two at bats, three at most.

In order to score by taking one base at a time, a chain of players have to do multiple things right, both at the plate and on the base paths. Even then, they're often giving away outs to score a run or two, which makes rallying unlikely.

Not that it wasn't already. Without Utley and Howard, the Phillies are severely lacking in big hits, and nobody has stepped up to replace them. Guys like Rollins and Victorino will get theirs, and Pence can really turn it on.

But as long as the right side of the infield continues to resemble a black hole, it doesn't seem that will be enough. Having two automatic outs in a lineup with no power is probably too much for any team to overcome more often than not, even with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels in a rotation.

Joel Embiid has some dope slippers

Joel Embiid has some dope slippers

Joel Embiid won't play in the next few games after banging up his knee on Friday night in the Sixers win over Portland. This is a bummer for Sixers fans hoping to see the most exciting athlete in Philly in action.

But don't fret too much. Embiid was seen after practice on Monday looking pretty limber, getting up some shots in some sweet slippers.

Hopefully we'll see Embiid back in some Adidas on Friday when the Sixers host James Harden and the Houston Rockets at the Center.

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

Stay or Go Part 9: Jalen Mills to Wendell Smallwood

In the ninth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 9 is Mills to Smallwood.

Jalen Mills
Cap hit: $559K

Roob: Mills has all the tools to be a capable cornerback except world-class speed. He’s fearless, he’s cocky, he’s smart, he’s a hard worker. He just doesn’t have that make-up speed you want your top outside corners to have. I’ve seen enough positives from Mills that I definitely want him on my team. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a starter, but I definitely want him around.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Mills really got thrown into the fire as a seventh-round rookie, didn’t he? It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. It’s pretty obvious defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s loves Mills’ competitiveness. He doesn’t have top-end speed and that’s probably going to prevent him from ever becoming a top-of-the-line corner in the league. But there’s no reason he can’t stick around for a long time. He certainly has the right mindset to be a corner in the NFL and that’s a part of the battle. The Eagles really need to upgrade the corner position, which could greatly reduce Mills’ role, but he should still have one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Neary

Roob: Neary is a guard who spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: I’d say there’s a fair to good chance most of you have never heard of Aaron Neary. He’s an undrafted O-lineman out of Eastern Washington who was on the practice squad in 2016. I’d be lying if I told you I knew a lot about him. 

Verdict: GOES

Jason Peters
Cap hit: $11.7M

Roob: Cut Jason Peters at your own risk. You want the $9.2 million cap savings that the Eagles would gain by releasing the perennial Pro Bowler? Find it somewhere else. Because some guys simply should never be released. Peters is an all-time great Eagle and unless his level of play drops off dramatically, he should be allowed to decide when it’s time to go. Only Chuck Bednarik has been picked to more Pro Bowls than Peters in Eagles history. Peters rebounded from a subpar 2015 with a vintage Peters season this past year. Considering that the Eagles have a promising young quarterback who has to be protected and considering that Lane Johnson is one more positive test from a two-year suspension, Peters has to stay. I don’t care what the cap savings would be by getting rid of him. He’s too good and means too much to cut him. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sure, the Eagles could save over $9 million in cap room if they cut Peters, but who would they get to play? While they’d be fine moving Lane Johnson to left tackle, they’d then be relying on Halapoulivaati Vaitai to play right tackle. And while that might be the plan in coming years, it would weaken the team in 2017. Peters might not be the dominant force he once was, but he had a very good season and he was able to play 97 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, which is huge. He gets paid a lot, but he’s still worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Isaac Seumalo
Cap hit: $764K

Roob: I asked Jason Kelce about Seumalo back in training camp and Kelce said he thinks the third-round pick will one day be a Pro Bowl center. Pretty clear Seumalo is the heir apparent to Kelce, it’s just a matter of when the transition occurs. Kelce wasn’t as awful as some people seem to think. He actually finished the season strong. But I think Kelce goes this offseason and Seumalo is your opening-day center in 2017. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Seumalo’s rookie year was a really interesting one. It started with a pec strain in training camp that slowed him down, but eventually ended with his getting some real experience. In all, Seumalo played six different positions in 2016: right tackle, right guard, left guard, left tackle, fullback and tight end. He didn’t even play center, which might be his most natural spot. I think he’ll have a real shot to be the team’s opening-day starter at left guard. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aziz Shittu

Roob: Rookie defensive tackle spent the year on the practice squad. Depending on what happens with Bennie Logan in free agency, the Eagles could be on the prowl for defensive tackle depth this offseason, and Shittu is an interesting guy. He had a good training camp last year coming off a solid career at Stanford and it’s fair to say he has a chance, depending on what the Eagles do in the draft and free agency. Going with my instincts on this one.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I actually really liked Shittu coming out of Stanford and not just because I giggle like a schoolgirl every time I hear his name. For an interior defensive lineman, he has some real pass rushing potential. I think he would have been the undrafted guy to make the team over Destiny Vaeao had he not missed the spring because of the silly college graduation/quarters rule. I’d like to see him get a legitimate shot to stick here. It’s a longshot, but I’m going to take a chance with this one. I think he can make the roster. 

Verdict: STAYS

Wendell Smallwood
Cap hit: $601K

Roob: We spend so much time talking about the Eagles’ desperate needs at cornerback and wide receiver that it’s easy to forget they're just as desperate at running back. Assuming Ryan Mathews isn’t back, the Eagles will have a real need for a No. 1 back. You can’t draft or sign every position. So Smallwood could get a real shot at the lead back role. Can he handle the role or is he best suited to be a No. 2? Not sure yet. I like how Smallwood responded when he got double-digit carries against the Steelers, Falcons and Seahawks. Averaged 4.2 yards in those three games. And he had nine runs of 10 yards or more out of just 77 carries. I know Smallwood is a player. I’m just not sure where he’ll fit in. Maybe it’s the No. 28 jersey, but at worst I see him as a Correll Buckhalter-type, a solid No. 2 back who can fill in once in a while as a lead guy. At best? We’ll see. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Smallwood might not be the true answer at the running back position, but he proved enough to earn a roster spot next year and a role in the offense. I’m not sure if his ceiling is very high, but he got better throughout the year, specifically as a blocker. He’ll be back for Year 2. 

Verdict: STAYS