5 reasons the Phillies failed in the 1st half

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5 reasons the Phillies failed in the 1st half

For a large chunk of the first half of the season, it was difficult to reconcile the Phillies' poor record despite relatively impressive individual contributions from many regulars.

The theory all offseason was that if Jimmy Rollins regained some power, if Chase Utley stayed on the field, if Ryan Howard could come close to 30 and 100, if the bullpen was improved, and if free-agent signings Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett repeated their 2013 seasons, the Phillies would be a winning team.

Most of that happened, and yet here we are at the All-Star break with the Phils again playing mostly meaningless summer baseball.

How did it get this bad? Let's take a look at the key stats which explain the Phillies' 42-53 record:

1. Ryan Howard
Howard is on pace for 26 home runs and 95 RBIs, and that's after he homered just once in his final 101 plate appearances before the All-Star break.

But it's an empty 26 and 95. Howard has hit .220 with a .300 on-base percentage. He also has just 10 doubles.

Out of 157 major-leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances, Howard ranks 148th in batting average, 137th in on-base percentage and 89th with 26 extra-base hits. The first two ranks you can live with because it's just the player Howard is nowadays. But if he's also not driving the ball, he's completely useless.

Platoon him in the second half? Howard actually has a higher OPS vs. lefties (.711) than against righties (.671). But his plate discipline has been significantly worse against same-handed pitching.

Against righties, Howard has walked 10 percent of the time and struck out 26 percent of the time.

Against lefties, he's walked in nine percent of his plate appearances and struck out in 39 percent.

There is no difference between Howard and Mark Reynolds at this point. Reynolds has one fewer homer and OBP three points higher than Howard's. The difference is that Reynolds signed a minor-league deal worth $2 million at the major-league level, and Howard makes $25 million.

2. Domonic Brown
Brown was literally the least valuable everyday player in the first half, according to Fangraphs. Brown was worth minus-1.2 WAR thanks to an atrocious 91 games offensively and defensively.

You can't quite say enough about how little Brown has given the Phillies this season. In that same aforementioned group of 157 players, Brown ranks 146th in batting average, 151st in on-base percentage and 139th in extra-base hits.

Throw in all the runs he's cost the Phillies defensively -- at a position regarded as the second-easiest on the diamond to play -- and you can see why Phillies fans are ready to run a once-highly touted 26-year-old out of town already.

The Phillies' OPS from first base is .685, 23rd in baseball. That's 76 points below the league average. Their OPS from left field is .572, second-worst in baseball and 144 points below the league average.

3. No timely hitting
The Phillies have had more plate appearances with runners in scoring position than 16 teams. But they rank fourth-worst in baseball with a .229 batting average with RISP.

The last time the Phils finished with a worse batting average with runners in scoring position was 1971.

Even in the down years of 2012 and 2013, they hit a combined .259 with RISP.

Hitting .259 would have meant 24 more hits with runners in scoring position in those first 95 games. How many wins do 24 more hits with RISP equal? Three? Five? Ten?

4. Pitching on different pages
The best month for the Phillies' starting rotation was April, when the rotation had a 3.70 ERA.

The worst month for the Phillies' relievers was April, when the bullpen had a 4.89 ERA.

In May, the starters had a 3.92 ERA and the bullpen had a 3.42 ERA.

In June, the starters had a 3.89 ERA and the bullpen posted a 2.63.

So in those two months combined, the bullpen rebounded for a 3.04 ERA in 157 innings, but the starters had just a mediocre 3.90 ERA.

Ten years ago, a 3.90 ERA would have been nice. But in today's declining offensive climate, the National League average is a 3.69 ERA.

The Phillies just haven't been able to get both components of their pitching staff going concurrently for a prolonged period of time.

And really, that was the main theme of the Phils' first half. When the offense showed up, the pitching didn't. When the pitching did, the offense didn't. The fielding was mediocre and the baserunning wasn't spectacular like it was from 2007-11.

5. The last word
This final stat should sum up exactly what kind of team the 2014 Phillies are:

Against teams over .500, the Phils are 20-32.

Against teams under .500, the Phils are 22-21.

When you can't beat the good teams and you're just .500 against the bad teams, what does that say about your club?

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

NEW YORK -- Giants Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford made three errors for the first time in his career, with his wild throw in the eighth inning giving the New York Yankees a 3-2 win Friday night that sent San Francisco to its season-worst sixth straight loss.

The Giants held the best record in the majors at the All-Star break, but haven't won since. They also lost catcher Buster Posey, who fouled a ball off his right foot and left with a bruise. X-rays were negative and he was listed as day to day.

Masahiro Tanaka shut out San Francisco for six innings, giving up four singles. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner went seven innings, allowing two runs.

The Giants nicked Dellin Betances in the seventh, pulling within 2-1 on a walk, a double by Denard Span and a wild pitch. That ended a streak of 31 scoreless innings by Yankees relievers.

A double by Giants pinch-hitter Mac Williamson off Andrew Miller (6-1) tied it in the eighth.

But the Yankees bounced back for the fifth win in six games, and didn't need to hit the ball hard to do it (see full recap).

Kemp homers twice in Padres' victory
WASHINGTON -- Matt Kemp homered twice and drove in four runs, rookie Luis Perdomo pitched seven solid innings and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak.

Kemp hit a solo shot in the first inning and gave San Diego the lead for good with a three-run homer in the fifth. He has six homers in his last six games and the Padres have homered in 20 straight, the longest streak in the National League this season.

Perdomo (4-4) gave up two first-inning runs, then limited the National to two hits over the final six innings of his longest outing. Brandon Maurer pitched 1 1/3 innings for his fourth save.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy homered for Washington. The Nationals have lost four of five.

Tanner Roark (9-6) turned in his shortest outing since June 5, lasting just five innings. He allowed five runs on four hits and surrendered two homers in a game for the first time this season (see full recap).

Fowler sparks Cubs' win over Brewers in return
MILWAUKEE -- Dexter Fowler led off the first with a homer and drove in three runs in his first game back from the disabled list, powering the Chicago Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night.

Fowler went 3 for 4 with a walk and scored twice after being sidelined more than a month with a strained right hamstring. His two-run double to left with the bases loaded in the second drew rousing cheers from the bevy of Cubs fans visiting Milwaukee.

Jason Hammel (9-5) allowed four hits and two runs over five-plus innings for his second victory since the All-Star break for NL Central-leading Chicago. He never trailed after Fowler slugged a 3-1 pitch from Jimmy Nelson (6-8) over the center-field wall to lead off the game.

Hernan Perez had a run-scoring double for the Brewers, and Ryan Braun hit a solo homer.

There were so many fans in Chicago shirts that their boos drowned out cheers from Brewers backers when Braun stepped to the plate in fourth. Braun went deep to center on the first pitch of the at-bat from Hammel for his 14th homer of the year.

Hammel departed after allowing a leadoff double to Scooter Gennett in the sixth with the Brewers trailing 4-2. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. then retired the Brewers' 3-4-5 hitters in order, capped by strikeouts of Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter on six pitches total (see full recap).

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Zach Eflin wasn’t the normal youth pitcher while growing up in Oviedo, Florida.

Though the lanky right-hander had the arm strength to overpower hitters, he concentrated more on pitching inside and keeping the ball low in the strike zone than trying to blow his fastball by everybody.
 
“I didn’t start throwing a slider or curveball until I was 16 or 17,” Eflin said. “I was taught at an early age that establishing the inside part of the plate allows you to throw your changeup effectively and opens things up so you can throw all your pitches. I wanted the changeup to be an effective pitch for me.”
 
The Phillies' rookie is showing in the early part of his major-league career that he learned his lessons well.
 
The 22-year-old had his best outing yet Friday night when he pitched a three-hit shutout — the first of his nascent career — to lead the Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Eflin struck out six, had no walks and used an efficient 100 pitches to notch his second complete game. He also went the distance July 5 against the Atlanta Braves when he pitched a six-hitter and threw 92 pitches.
 
“One of the most exciting things about this season has been seeing the improvement of so many of our young pitchers,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “Zach has made such great strides in a short period of time.
 
“I’m happy for him. He’s a hard worker and a personable kid. He’s done a really good job.”
 
Eflin made his sixth straight quality start and is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in eight outings since being recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley. The consistency Eflin is showing at such a young age is quite surprising in light of getting rocked for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in his major-league debut by the Blue Jays on June 14 at Toronto.
 
“What impressed me the most after that debacle in Toronto is that Zach came back the next day and knew exactly what he needed to do in order to be successful and that was keep the ball down,” Mackanin said. “He’s been keeping the ball down ever since.”
 
Mackanin then smiled.
 
“He’s becoming one of my favorite pitchers,” the manager said.
 
Coming off a 2-5 homestand, the Phillies started a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road. Elfin got them off on the right foot at a venue where the Phillies were a combined 0-6 during the previous two seasons.
 
“It was great to pitch a shutout, a lot of fun,” Elfin said. “Having been out on the mound in the ninth inning before really helped. I knew I could finish the game.”
 
All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera broke out of his slump with three hits and two runs scored and catcher Cameron Rupp hit a two-run home run.
 
Herrera had two singles and a double after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games.
 
Herrera singled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Rupp. Herrera then doubled and scored on Andres Blanco’s single in the seventh to make it 2-0.
 
Rupp’s two-run shot, his 10th of the season, off Jon Niese in the ninth inning capped the scoring. Rupp had two hits and three RBIs.
 
Second baseman Freddy Galvis also had two hits, as did Blanco, who replaced third baseman Maikel Franco in the bottom of the third inning.
 
Franco was hit in the left wrist in the first inning by a pitch from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-6). He then singled in the top of the third before undergoing X-rays that were negative.

Eflin hit Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the rear end with a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, causing home plate umpire Tony Randazzo to warn both teams. There were no further incidents.
 
Franco had his hand wrapped after the game and said he did not know if he would be able to play Saturday afternoon. The ball hit Franco in the same spot where he suffered a fracture last August that caused him to miss most of the last six weeks of the season.
 
“I was scared at first because it was sore and was getting puffy,” Franco said. “I felt better [after getting treatment], though. I think everything will be fine.”

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Pirates 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Pirates 0

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Rookie Zach Eflin pitched his first major-league shutout in his seventh career start Friday night as the Phillies beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-0, to open a three-game series at PNC Park.
 
The 22-year-old allowed three hits, did not walk a batter and struck out six. He needed 100 pitches to finish his second complete game.
 
All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera broke out of his slump with three hits and two runs scored and catcher Cameron Rupp hit a two-run home run.
 
Herrera had two singles and a double after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games.
 
Coming off a 2-5 homestand, the Phillies started a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road with a win. The Phillies were a combined 0-6 in Pittsburgh during the previous two seasons.
 
Starting pitching report
Eflin made his sixth straight quality start since being rocked for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in his major-league debut by the Blue Jays on June 14 at Toronto. He has allowed six earned runs in his last four road starts.
 
He faced just two batters over the minimum.
 
At the plate
Herrera singled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Rupp. Herrera then doubled and scored on Andres Blanco’s single in the seventh to make it 2-0.
 
Rupp’s two-run shot, his 10th of the season, off Jon Niese in the ninth inning capped the scoring. Rupp had two hits and three RBIs.
 
Second baseman Freddy Galvis also had two hits, as did Blanco, who replaced third baseman Maikel Franco in the bottom of the third inning. Franco was struck in the left wrist in the first inning by a pitch from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole and was removed for what the Phillies said were precautionary reasons (see story).
 
Eflin hit Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the rear end with a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, causing home plate umpire Tony Randazzo to warn both teams. There were no further incidents.
 
Up next
The Phillies have two games remaining with the Pirates in the three-game series and will face a pair of rookies starting pitchers.
 
Saturday afternoon — RHP Aaron Nola (5-8, 4.41) vs. RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 6.75).
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.15) vs. RHP Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.44).