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.

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Opportunity for a rare 4-game win streak

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Opportunity for a rare 4-game win streak

Phillies (33-61) vs. Brewers (52-47)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

For the first time since they won four straight from June 3-6, the Phillies have a three-game winning streak going. On Friday night, they were carried by the arm of Aaron Nola, who is on a roll since early June (see story). Going for the Phils' fourth straight win, Jeremy Hellickson toes the rubber Saturday against rookie lefty Brent Suter.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Gone streaking?
A winning streak! The Phillies have put together one of their better stretches of the season over the last week, winning four out of five beginning with the final game of their set in Milwaukee. 

While the offense has picked up its play in that span (6.2 runs per game in the last five), the pitching needs to be mentioned first. The staff has come together well and looks much more like what the team expected in the spring. Fitting, the three-game streak began with six quality innings from Vince Velasquez. This season has been a struggle for the righty, who came off the disabled list in the win.

On Wednesday, Nick Pivetta allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings, but the bullpen held the Marlins scoreless. And then there was Nola on Friday. He looked sharp from the get-go and found a second gear when the lineup turned over. The second time through the lineup, he struck out seven batters in the midst of retiring 10 straight batters.

Now to the offense. Going into Friday's win, the Phillies were ninth in team OPS in July. Nick Williams has 10 hits in his last six games, picking up where Aaron Altherr left off. Maikel Franco has a five-game hit streak and has raised his average to .233, the highest it's been since the Phillies' opening series in April.

Meanwhile, the Brewers are ice cold. They've lost six straight and have a tenuous hold on their division with the red-hot Chicago Cubs on their heels. They're only a game up on the Cubs and are one behind in the loss column. They're only 2.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh and 3.5 up on the Cardinals. The clock may have hit midnight on baseball's first-half Cinderella.

2. Hellickson at home
In his last time out, Hellickson had the Brewers off balance for most of his outing. He was cruising into the fifth inning with a 1-0 lead, but the righty made one big mistake, leading to a home run by Brett Phillips that put Milwaukee up.

While the Phillies won the game, it ended Hellickson's day. It was the first time in his last five starts that he had failed to complete at least six innings.

The righty has been on a mini-roll since he was roughed up by the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park last month. In his last five appearances, he has a 3.26 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. He's allowed only 30 baserunners in that period and held batters to a .227 average. 

Looking at Hellickson's season as a whole, he has similar numbers away from CBP in 2017 compared to last year. However, he's faltered at home. He had a 3.16 ERA in 99 2/3 innings at CBP last year with a 4.55 K/BB ratio. This year, it's a 4.59 ERA with a 1.59 K/BB ratio while his home run rate has ballooned. It's not a great look for a pitcher the Phillies would like to trade.

3. Brewers turn to the rookie
With their division lead evaporating, the Brewers are turning to Suter, a rookie making just his 12th appearance and fifth start of the season after making 14 and two last year. 

And the lefty has looked good in limited action. In 32 innings, he has a 3.09 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks. He's allowed 32 hits and just one home run.

The 27-year-old lefty has had success despite his four-seam fastball topping out in the upper 80s. He still throws it 70.3 percent of the time working in his mid-70s slider and low-80s changeup with some success. He'll rarely throw his curveball. 

One may wonder how a lefty who doesn't touch 90 mph can handle RHBs. Believe it or not, Suter actually has a reverse split for his career, holding righties to a .680 OPS while LHBs hit .803 off him.

Suter has made three starts in July and has held hitters to a .254/.294/.317 slash line in 17 innings, striking out 15 and walking four.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Speaking of lefties, Odubel Herrera has had better command of the strike zone recently. He's drawn a walk in four consecutive games and has five walks to go with nine hits since the All-Star break.

Brewers: Eric Thames has cooled off considerably since his hot April, but he still leads the Brewers with 23 home runs this season and has a .774 OPS since May. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies haven't won back-to-back series since sweeping Atlanta and Miami April 21-27. They've lost every home series since taking two of three from the Giants on June 2-4.

• In five career starts against the Brewers, Hellickson is 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA over 28 innings. 

• Mark Leiter Jr. took a loss for Triple A Lehigh Valley on Friday, but Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery hit their 21st and fifth home runs for the IronPigs, respectively.

With off-the-charts command, Kyle Young aims to become tallest MLB pitcher ever

With off-the-charts command, Kyle Young aims to become tallest MLB pitcher ever

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Phillies prospect Kyle Young is aiming to become the tallest pitcher in MLB history.
 
The 7-foot left-hander out of Long Island has become the staff ace in Short-Season Class A Williamsport, with a 1.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 34 strikeouts and just seven walks in 28 1/3 innings this season. Those numbers would be impressive for any 19-year-old pitcher, but when you consider his size, Young’s command is off the charts.
 
His coaches attribute that ability to an athleticism rarely seen in taller pitchers.
 
“The amazing thing with him is the coordination he brings to the table,” Crosscutters pitching coach Hector Berrios said. “It’s been off the charts for a guy his size to be able to repeat his delivery and not only do it with one pitch, he does it with all three pitches.”
 
Right now, those three pitches include a fastball that reaches the low 90s, a changeup and an off-speed pitch that Young calls a “slurve.” And he believes that his height gives him an additional weapon.
 
“Not even just because of the intimidation or anything, but also just the downward plane that I can get on the ball with my fastball," Young said. "I think that really helps induce groundballs. I know they’re going to hit it, everybody hits fastballs, but just try to get weak contact. That's the main goal.”
 
“He hides the ball fairly well in addition to the release point being a tad bit closer to the plate, which matters,” said Crosscutters manager Pat Borders, who you might remember as the starting catcher for the Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series. “If you get a release point that's a foot closer, it's like adding some velocity. He's a kid now physically. In a couple years, you're going to have somebody that's throwing harder and already has the mindset and physical skills to do some damage.”
 
The Phillies selected Young in the 22nd round last year, and a $225,000 bonus swayed him to turn pro rather than accept a scholarship to Hofstra. Early in his professional career, it looks like money well spent by the Phillies.

You can see more on Young, 2017 first-round pick Adam Haseley and 18-year-old power-hitting sensation Jhailyn Ortiz on the next episode of Phillies Clubhouse, which airs Saturday (11 p.m.) and Sunday (12:30 p.m., 6 p.m.) on CSN.