5 reasons the Phillies failed in the 1st half


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?

Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning recovering from stroke

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Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning recovering from stroke

National Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher and Phillies great Jim Bunning is recovering from a stroke, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bunning, who suffered the stroke Tuesday night in his Southgate, Kentucky, home, was moved from intensive care to a transitional care unit on Thursday night, per the report.

Bunning "has been provided skilled care that is leading him on the road to recovery," the family said in a statement Friday.

"The Bunning family wants to thank the first responders and medical personnel who have been treating dad," the statement said. "We sincerely appreciate the thoughts and prayers of all who are concerned about our father’s health. However, so we can focus our efforts on dad’s recovery, we ask the press to respect our family’s privacy at this time. We will let everyone know as his health continues to improve."

The 84-year old is one of two Phillies pitchers to toss a perfect game in the organization’s history. He accomplished the feat on Father’s Day in 1964.

Along with the Phillies, Bunning played for the Tigers, Pirates and Dodgers in his 17-year career. The righthander, who was enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1984, won 89 games and posted a 2.93 ERA in six seasons in Philadelphia. 

After his baseball days, Bunning started a career in politics. He served stints in Congress and the U.S. Senate before retiring in 2010.

MLB playoffs: Cubs advance to first World Series since 1945

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MLB playoffs: Cubs advance to first World Series since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton Kershaw, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.

Lineup shuffle
Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.

Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.