How I wish I could go back to the beginning of April. Take me back to Rhys Hoskins’ grand slam in game one of the season. Take me back to Bryce Harper silencing a bitter Nationals Park after a massive home run to right field. Take me back to when the Phillies were the last remaining undefeated team in baseball. But in a snap-o- a-finger (yes, that is a Marvel reference), it was all gone. Let’s brush away the ashes of what was a hot start to the Philadelphia Phillies (12-11, 2nd in NL East) season and figure out what has been going wrong.
If you look at the team total of strikeouts, it doesn’t seem that bad. The Phillies sit at 15th in strikeouts in all of baseball. Unfortunately, that number doesn’t tell the whole story.
It’s not that the entire lineup is riddled with strikeouts, but it’s more about who is going down on strikes. Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper are all near the top of strikeout leaders early this season. Harper is the highest out of the three, as he stands at fourth in strikeouts with 31. McCutchen and Hoskins are both tied at 16th with 27 Ks. So in total, three of the top four batters in the Phillies lineup have accounted for 85 of the team’s 210 strikeouts.
Now I know that strikeout rates have been rising in Major League Baseball for a decade now. Home run threats like Hoskins and Harper are going to strikeout often considering that they are trying to blast a ball 400 feet each at bat. As we have seen though, this can lead to weeks of glory or weeks full of despair. When Harper signed his lucrative 13-year $330 million contract, Phillies fans were warned of the peaks and valleys of Harper’s play. Right now Harper’s play is down, and so is Hoskins, but how long will it last? In some season’s it can only happen for weeks. Others it can last half of a season, like Harper’s 2018 campaign. The Phillies can only hope that it is the former, not the latter.
“Injuries aren’t an excuse!” I can already see the mentions. When looking at the end of a 162-game season, yes, injuries are not an excuse. As of this part of the season for the Phillies, it’s a problem.
Jean Segura was well on his way to possibly earning another all-star bid with his stellar start to the season. He’s on the 10-day Injured List. Scott Kingery was starting to become a breakout candidate for the Phillies. He’s on the 10-day IL. Odubel Herrera looked more like himself than the player we saw in the second half of the 2018 season. He’s on the 10-day IL.
Those three were major contributors to the Phillies fast start. Not only are they gone for a short period, but their replacements have been atrocious. Roman Quinn, who replaced Herrera, has struck out 13 times in 21 plate appearances and at times has looked bad in the outfield. Phil Goesslin provided a big bases-clearing double in Colorado and for a few days was a nice story in Philadelphia. That nice story faded quickly as Goesslin now in 18 at bats only has three hits.
I usually don’t play into the mental aspect of baseball. It is certainly there, but it’s something that is hard to breakdown or analyze. The only time when it seems noteworthy is when it gets brought up multiple times by players or coaches. Jake Arrieta was vocal about the energy the Phillies displayed in a 5-1 loss to the Mets on Monday. Then Phillies Manager Gabe Kapler this morning shared the same sentiment.
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) April 24, 2019
These things happen. It is a 162-game season. Not every game can be great. What will be interesting to see from the 2019 Phillies is how quickly they can breakout of this funk. The Phillies went through a similar issue in the second half of the 2018 season and went on to have a 27-40 record, finishing below .500. This could be a good early test to prove that this is a new era of Phillies baseball and not a repeat of the 2018 team.
Things have gone downhill quickly for the Phillies. The bright spot in all of this? Segura and Herrera are set to return soon, as both are expected to return in the weekend series against the Miami Marlins. Also, the top of the lineup will not remain in a slump forever. At some point Harper and Hoskins will be sending baseballs into the bleachers at a higher rate.
To summarize quite briefly what is really the issue right now for the Phillies; timing. It just so happened that at the same time three key contributors went down with injuries, the top of the Phillies lineup started to cool off. Now to wait and see when the team can put it all together again.