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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Phillies management will face tough choices in fixing lineup and roster issues

Phillies offense and defense have been poor in 2018
The Philadelphia Phillies are showing signs that the offensive and defensive struggles which have plagued the team all season may finally be ready to derail hopes for an unexpected 2018 playoff berth.
Friday night’s 2-0 shutout at the hands of the NL West cellar-dwelling San Diego Padres served to reveal symptoms of what have been season-long weaknesses. One of the biggest manifested itself once again as the club left 10 men on base.
The club has been shut out twice in a row. They haven’t scored now in 19 innings. The Phillies offensive attack is actually not inconsistent. Truth be told, it is virtually non-existent. That is especially so when compared with most other contending teams.

Those shortcomings have been pointed out previously, but it’s educational to take an updated look at where the Phillies offense stacks up now that we are into the season’s fifth month.
Keeping the comparisons within the National League where lineups are not bolstered by a Designated Hitter is probably fairer. But even just within the senior circuit, the Phillies do not fare well in statistical comparisons.
The Phillies current team ranks within the 15 teams of the NL in various key offensive statistics are as follows: Runs (11), Hits (14), Extra-base Hits (11), OPS (11), and Stolen Bases (14). The team’s hitters are second in the league in strikeouts having whiffed 1,099 times, just nine behind the Padres for the worst mark in the league.
Over the last two weeks the Phillies have fashioned a 6-7 record. They have fallen from first place with a 2.5 game lead to now trailing the Atlanta Braves by percentage points in the National League East Division race.
In that time the offense has scored 40 runs, or just over three runs per game. On the season the Phillies are now averaging about 4.33 runs per game.
Defensively things are no better. With 83 errors the Phillies rank 28 of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Those are just the charged miscues. There have been a number of other misplays and poor judgments made. The catchers failing to handle offerings that have been charged as wild pitches. It has been an almost nightly comedy of literal errors.
There are many culprits when you glance up and down the Phillies lineup. One of the biggest is the 32-year-old, $60 million first baseman, Carlos Santana. He is on pace to hit roughly 25 home runs and produce 95 RBI. Some will tell you that makes him worth the contract.
Santana will drop statistically in a number of categories for a second straight season at age 32.
However, Santana is also hitting an anemic .217, and his slugging percentage is more than 40 points below his career average. Across the board from those AVG and SLG marks to OPS, doubles, hits, total bases and more, Santana is going to drop for a second straight season.
As Santana ages to 33 and 34 over the next two years and $40 million owed, for anyone to expect a reversal of that trend would be foolish. This was a bad signing when it happened, and it is likely only to look even worse over the course of the next two seasons.
The problem isn’t just in Santana’s numbers and age, but it is also with Phillies management. Their judgment in awarding such a contract commitment to such a limited player is disturbing. What would be even more disturbing? Their inability or unwillingness to admit a mistake and to take a corrective measure.

Another culprit can also be found on the right side of the infield where second baseman Cesar Hernandez is putting together yet another empty offensive season.
Hernandez is one of the few remaining holdovers who was a regular during the last three awful campaigns. Since a hot start during which he produced the majority of his numbers, the 28-year-old is hitting just .250 with a .317 slugging percentage That covers his last 72 games, or nearly a half-season worth of minimal production.
Hernandez has also reverted to his usual reluctance to run, with just five stolen bases during that same period. Some have talked about his speed, but the fact is that he has never stolen even 20 bases in a season. At his pace of the last three months, that streak will continue.
To call Odubel Herrera “mercurial” may be an understatement. For the last seven weeks he has mostly been on the cold end of the thermometer, slashing just .208/.267/.356 since June 25. The center fielder has just three non-homer extra-base hits in that time and has stolen just one base. And there have been a handful of Herrera’s far-too-frequent defensive gaffes as well during that period.
There are some Phillies fans, as well as scribes and broadcasters who follow the team regularly, who do nothing but apologize for the shortcomings of these players. If management takes that attitude, it is difficult to envision how things will improve.
These are not kids who are growing, they are veterans who are what they are. They have severe limitations for a team attempting to contend. When hot, they can look like all-stars. Those periods don’t occur frequently enough. I would be looking to deal each of them right in the middle of their next hot streak.
Ramos could help, but may not be available for another three weeks, if then.
Management has stepped up to try and help the offensive attack in recent weeks. The addition of veteran infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, catcher Wilson Ramos, and first baseman Justin Bour will certainly give manager Gabe Kapler more experienced options with which to work.
However, it’s difficult to see these players having a tremendous effect in the short-term to help the Phillies contend. Over his first dozen games, the 32-year-old Cabrera is slashing .227/.277/.409 while making seven of his 12 starts at shortstop where he had not played all year in New York and where he is subpar defensively.
Bour brings power to the Phillies, a nice option as a left-handed bat. But since he will supposedly be used solely as a pinch-hitter and occasional sub for Santana, it’s difficult to see how much real impact he will have for the club on a frequent basis.
Ramos would be an everyday upgrade on the young tandem of Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but he remains on the disabled list. When the club acquired the all-star, it was announced that Ramos might not be activated until after rosters expand on September 1. Even that might prove to be an optimistic exact date.
While it is not a rigid fact, and changes slightly based on the number of runs scored in the league during a particular year, there is a baseball statistical axiom that states it takes 10 runs to produce one win.
Using that concept, the Phillies offense would have produced just 50 wins to this point in the season. In reality, the Phillies have won 64 games. Every fan who has followed the team on a regular basis already knows that starting pitching has made the difference.
Imagine instead that the Phillies pitchers were simply producing what you could have expected as an average season. It would be realistic then to find the team with something like a 50-65 record at this moment.

That record would leave the Phillies in third place in the NL East, a game ahead of the New York Mets, tied in the loss column. They would be 14 games behind the Braves for the division lead, and 13 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks for the second NL Wildcard berth.
After finishing 30 games below the .500 mark and at the bottom of the division a year ago, such a record to this point in 2018 might seem like a step up. We might be talking about how there were still growing pains, but there was improvement.
The pitching excellence has gradually changed postseason hopes to expectations at this point for many fans. Spending more than a month straight at the top of the division in mid-summer will tend to do that.
The Arrieta signing has proven to be a difference-maker thus far in 2018
Thankfully, Aaron Nola has developed into a true ace. Jake Arrieta has proven to be tremendous free agent addition. Both Vince Velasquezand Zach Eflin are developing into legitimate big league starting pitchers who might be able to stick in the rotation over the long haul.
There are no easy short-term fixes for what is ailing this Phillies team. Management has made commitments to players that it is not going to back off now. Not in this current season. Possibly, hopefully, some serious, tough re-evaluations of the current roster will take place this coming off-season as the team looks to keep stepping forward.
There are now 47 games remaining in the 2018 regular season for these Phillies. If they play at the same pace as over the past two weeks, they would finish with about 85 wins. They wouldn’t win the division, but they would likely remain in the Wildcard race into the final week.
Would that be good enough for Phillies fans? Would there be moral victory in a winning campaign after five or six years of rebuilding misery?
Would being able to realize that a step up had been taken, that there was plenty of money for free agents in the off-season, and that 2019 promised to be even better help soothe the ache of a second-half sputter?
If such a result were to occur, the likely culprit will be this anemic offensive attack and poor defense. Too many similar all-or-nothing hitters. Too many players out of position. Too little usable team speed. Figuring out how to make the offensive and defensive mix measurably better in 2019 will be management’s biggest challenge over this coming winter.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as "No easy short-term fix for what ails the Phillies 2018 lineup"

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