Recent history says the Phillies are finished

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Recent history says the Phillies are finished

It's the third day of June and the Phillies are seven games under .500 (see story). At 24-31, they have their worst record through 55 games since 2002.

After dropping four of five to the Mets at home, the Phils are 6½ games out of first place in the National League East. For a few weeks, the talk was that despite the Phils' ineptitude on the diamond, no team in the division was running away with it and, because of that, the Phils were still very much alive.

But the first-place Braves have won three straight and the Phillies have lost three straight. The deficit is 6½ games, and that's without the Braves and Nationals playing up to their capabilities. The eternal optimist looks at this situation and says that deficit is not insurmountable. But realistically, Atlanta and Washington are bound to get hot. And there's a good chance the Phillies wasted their best opportunity to contend, missing out on a two-month window to gain leverage in the division.

Somehow, the Phils have looked even worse than their record. They've been outscored by 41, giving them the third-worst run differential in the majors.

Carlos Ruiz called Monday's 11-2 loss "embarrassing." The mood in the clubhouse was so somber that a drop of water from a faucet would have made heads turn (see Instant Replay).

We're not even close to magic number territory, but the Phillies sure look to be out of it.

Here's why:

The Phillies are seven games under .500. From 2008 to 2013, there were 44 teams at least seven games under .500 at the end of play on June 2. Only five of those 44 teams finished above .500.

Forget about making the playoffs ... 39 of those 44 teams failed to finish with a winning record.

So you're saying there's a chance?

Hardly. Those five teams were exceptions.

The 2013 Dodgers were one of them. They had a run of 42 wins in 50 games.

The 2013 Royals were another. They went on a nine-game run in the second half.

The 2012 Athletics were well under .500 on June 2. But right after the All-Star break, Oakland won 10 of 11. And for good measure, the A's won nine in a row at the end of August.

The 2010 White Sox won 11 straight in June.

And the 2009 Rockies won 17 of 18 from June 4 to June 22.

Have the 2014 Phillies done anything through the first third of the season to show they can go on such a run?

Their longest winning streak this season is three games. Barring a string of nine consecutive wins beginning Tuesday in Washington, the Phils will reach at least 230 games without being two games over .500. That number continues to grow.

The offense is stagnant. The starting pitching is mediocre. The bullpen has been better of late, but still lacks quality in the final few spots. The defense? Jimmy Rollins has still got it at short, Ruiz calls a game and blocks balls well, and Chase Utley and Marlon Byrd have above-average range despite their miscues Monday. Aside from that, every other spot is weak defensively.

Just doesn't have the makings of a winning team.

Utley said after Monday's loss that he thinks the Phillies "can get better at everything."

He's right. But the Phillies don't have four months to click. They have five or six weeks, and then it's trade season, one that looks like it will favor sellers.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."