So much for Sunday’s win being one that could springboard the Phillies. Yes, they scored six runs in Monday’s 9-6 loss at Miami, but four of those runs came in the ninth inning against a reliever who had not pitched in the big leagues in nearly five years. The Phils have lost seven of their last nine games and have lost three of four this season to the Marlins, who continue to be a thorn in their side. The Phillies can’t get out of Miami fast enough.

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— Matt Breen (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Phillies are at the front of the pack of MLB’s strikeout problem

Andrew McCutchen’s strikeout to end the fourth inning of Sunday’s win over Boston left two runners stranded and was the Phillies’ 480th strikeout of the season, equaling the number of whiffs the team registered last summer over 60 games. It took just 47 games in 2021 for the Phillies to reach that mark. And they are blowing by it.

The Phillies, a year after having the seventh-fewest strikeouts in baseball, are leading the National League this season in strikeouts. They are averaging 10.25 strikeouts and have posted double-digit strikeouts in 60% of their games.

Strikeout rates continue to spike across Major League Baseball as it tries to combat the pitching dominance that has sapped the league’s offensive production. Teams are striking out this season at historic rates, and the strikeout record will likely be broken for the 15th straight year. The Phillies are near the front of the pack, trailing only the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Obviously, we’re striking out too much. You see that,” said hitting coach Joe Dillon, whose lineup has struck out 492 times. “But it’s tough. I think there’s a couple different factors. Obviously, we can get better at it, No. 1. But we’re doing the same things we did last year and last year we were one of the best at not striking out.

“It is what it is. Our division is tough, and it has really good pitching. The balls are different. There’s a lot of factors. But it’s the same for everyone. We have to do a better job. We’ll continue working and getting the guys healthy and continue to do the same things. I think it will even out. It’s been high early on, but hopefully it evens out and we’ll get back to where we should be.”

The Phillies have struck out this season in 27.6% of their plate appearances, and every batter is striking out at a higher rate than last summer. Rhys Hoskins’ 28% strikeout rate is the highest among the team’s regular players and is 4.8% higher than it was in 2020. Alec Bohm’s strikeout rate (27.9%) is nearly 8% higher than in 2020, and Bryce Harper’s 27.8% rate is 10.2% higher than it was last season.

Pitchers are throwing harder than ever, as velocity and spin rates have both reached record levels. With two strikes this season, the Phillies have mostly faced fastballs, with an average velocity of 94.4 mph. In 2008, the first year of MLB’s pitch tracking, the average two-strike fastball against the Phillies was 89.1 mph. The pitches have gotten faster each year.

The league introduced tighter baseballs this season to combat the rising home-run rate, and they will experiment this summer in the minor leagues by limiting shifts and extending the pitcher’s mound in hopes of injecting more offense. J.T. Realmuto said last week that the offensive struggles could be fixed if the league clamped down on pitchers’ doctoring the baseball with foreign substances.

Baseball seems willing to try anything to reduce strikeouts, and the Phillies aren’t helping much. Through Sunday, 27% of all major league plate appearances ended with a strikeout and teams were averaging 9.01 strikeouts per game.

“I can’t really explain why league-wide it’s been like that or why as a team it’s been like that. All I can tell you is we have to be better,” Harper said. “I think anytime you get out, it’s not fun. Strikeouts, ground outs, fly outs, any of that. I don’t like getting out even if it’s simply grounding out to second. We can’t be striking out in big spots or big situations. We have to do a better job. We need to be better all around, myself included.”

Manager Joe Girardi said the Phillies talk every day with their hitters about their approach with two strikes. And it’s for good reason. Entering Monday, the Brewers were the only National League team to face more two-strike counts this season.

The Phillies entered Monday hitting .170 this season with two strikes, baseball’s sixth-best two-strike average. But their slugging percentage and on-base percentage with two strikes are both roughly league average. Their strikeout rate in two-strike plate appearances (49.38%) is the highest in baseball.

“[Pitchers’] stuff is good right now in the big leagues,” Girardi said. “Strikeouts are up; offense is down. But it’s just continuing to try and master a two-strike approach.”

Dillon said the team’s two-strike approach is the same as it used last year. The personnel is mostly the same and the points of emphasis are similar, but the results have been much different. The Phillies tied last season’s strikeout total on Monday night, but they finished the night with just eight strikeouts. For them, that was progress.

“We don’t want to strike out. The guys don’t want to strike out,” Dillon said. “It’s something we work on every day, and we’ll continue to do so.”

The rundown

Zach Eflin’s struggles and another ill-timed error sent the Phillies to 9-6 loss to Marlins. Scott Lauber has all the details from another clunker in Miami, where the Phils have lost 10 of their last 14 games.

The Phillies were unable to activate Didi Gregorius from the injured list Monday because the shortstop’s elbow remains swollen nearly two weeks after he said he didn’t know why he had a “huge bump” on his right arm.

Harper was out of the lineup Monday for the second straight day as Girardi thought the struggling Harper could use another day off. Harper talked this weekend about what he thinks is causing his rough month.

The Phillies’ frustrating play hasn’t erased them from the wide-open NL East race, Bob Brookover writes.

Important dates

Tonight: Vince Velasquez starts in Miami against right-hander Sandy Alcantara, 6:40 p.m.

Tomorrow: Aaron Nola starts against the Marlins, 6:40 p.m.

Thursday: Spencer Howard faces right-hander Pablo Lopez in series finale, 12:10 p.m.

Friday: The Phillies are off.

Saturday: Phils open two-game series in Tampa, 1:10 p.m.

Stat of the day

Remember Cornelius Randolph? The Phillies’ first-round pick in 2015 hasn’t done much in the minor leagues, but he’s been on a tear this month with triple-A Lehigh Valley. Randolph was named Monday as the Triple-A East Player of the Week. He’s batting .377 this season through 15 games with four homers and a 1.119 OPS in 57 plate appearances.

Randolphs’s batting average is fifth in the Triple-A East, and his .698 slugging percentage ranks fifth. The outfielder hit just .247 in 2019 with double-A Reading with a .723 OPS. It’s still early, but Randolph could be pushing himself back on the team’s radar. He’ll turn 24 next month.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: Where is Scott Kingery? — Dave S. via email

Answer: Thanks, Dave. Kingery remains on the injured list after suffering a concussion. He’s in Allentown training at Coca-Cola Park, but has to clear some hurdles before he can come off the injured list. Once he does, Kingery will likely be assigned to triple-A Lehigh Valley so he can get everyday at-bats as the Phillies continue to rework his swing. If the Phillies have their way, Kingery will stay in triple A for an extended period.