Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Phillies Closing August in Poor Shape

Following Tuesday night's 3-2 defeat at the hands of the NL East rival Washington Nationals, the Phillies have played the schedule to a 12-13 record during the month of August.
While that might now seem like too bad a mark, a look at the club's recent play and some of the mitigating circumstances shows that they are entering September in much worse shape than fans hoped would be the case.
Over the last two weeks the Phillies have won just four of their 13 games, and have now lost four consecutive series of three games or more. Only the two game Interleague split with the White Sox was a non-loser in that stretch.
During this stretch, other than the pair against the Chisox, the Phils have faced some really good, contending ball clubs in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Saint Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, and now the Nationals.
Those four teams are a combined 50 games over the .500 mark, and the group includes two divisional leaders (Nationals, Dodgers), one of the two current NL Wildcard teams (Cardinals) and a Mets club that is just 2.5 out of that WC race.
However, more than the competition level is at play here. The Phillies are simply not looking very competitive most nights, and do not seem to be playing with the same spirit, drive, and intensity that characterized their early season success.
It seems like forever ago, maybe it was just a dream? But the Fightin' Phils were five games over the .500 mark as late as May 25th.
However, the Phillies have now gone 18-24 since the MLB All-Star break. And what for a couple of mid-summer months seemed like a hot and cold club treading water appears to have become a fast-sinking ship as the 'dog days' of August come to a close.
The Phils have now lost young starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin for the season to the disabled list with arm and knee injuries respectively.
There is even a possibility that Nola could be gone for most, if not all, of the 2017 season. For that matter, Eflin is also questionable to return healthy.


The loss of the two youngsters comes after the club had already lost an expected innings-eating veteran, Charlie Morton, back at the end of April to a season-ending injury.
Vincent Velasquez has proved enigmatic. The stuff is obviously there to get big league hitters out. He has allowed 124 hits over the same number of innings with a 144/45 K:BB ratio.
But Velasquez struggles almost every time out with command and control issues, running up huge pitch counts early in the game, leading to regular early exits.
The most consistent starters all year have been the two eldest, 29-year old Jeremy Hellickson and the now 26-year old Jerad Eickhoff.
Aug 30, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach McClure (22) talks with starting pitcher Eickhoff (48) after he finished the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals defeated the Phillies, 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
With the injuries, those pitchers are now joined in the rotation by lefty Adam Morgan, who has been consistently disappointing, and by 22-year old top pitching prospect Jake Thompson.
The bullpen has gone nearly the entire season leaning heavily on just two reliable arms in surprise closer Jeanmar Gomez and setup man Hector Neris, though young Edubray Ramos has generally pitched well since his late June promotion.
The offense still struggles most nights. The Phillies are last in Major League Baseball in runs scored, just 23rd in home runs, 29th in extra-base hits, and 29th in walks.
With a thinning rotation, an overworked bullpen, and an offense that is overmatched on most nights, there is a distinct possibility that what we have seen over the last two weeks could snowball into a disastrous September finish.
There was great hope at one point in the season that the club could hope for an infusion of young position player talent from its minor league system at this point.
Prospects such as shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielder Nick Williams, and possibly a catcher from among Andrew Knapp or Jorge Alfaro would arrive to inject some life and talent for the final few weeks.
That no longer seems likely, as each of those still highly rated youngsters has struggled to a large extent in August, with the lone exception of Alfaro, who may now have passed Crawford as the organization's top prospect.
Another factor is that most of the Phillies minor league affiliates are headed to the postseason. That is a great development for the organization as a whole, and for the players as they experience winning.
However, it also means that the arrival of any legitimate help from those minor league clubs is probably delayed by a week or two.
Manager Pete Mackanin has telegraphed some curious plans for the lineup in the coming month, stating that Tommy Joseph will see much more playing time at 1st base as Ryan Howard is phased out (if he is not traded).
Jun 29, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Goeddel against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
However, at the same time Mackanin seems to be leaning towards playing journeyman Jimmy Paredes over rookie Tyler Goeddel, who has all but disappeared from the lineup in recent weeks.
I hope that the doom and gloom that I am feeling right now regarding this team in the short-term is something that passes, and that the current group finds a way to kick it back into gear a bit and make a final push towards respectability.
Unfortunately, that is not what I am seeing right now. My fear is that this 2016 Phillies team could finish well short of the 75 wins that I predicted as the season opened.
They would need a 15-15 record over the final 30 games in order to reach that mark now. What I once hoped would be a low-ball prediction on my part now seems to be rapidly becoming an unreachable goal.

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