Bryce Harper stepped out of the batter’s box, hollered, and swung his bat, seeming to cut the air with his frustration as his fly ball traveled to left field in the sixth inning of a 11-4 loss Thursday night to the Baltimore Orioles.
It was just one out and there was still a runner on first. But if Harper could not drive Jean Segura home, who would? The Phillies built their lineup to be deep. Pitchers, Rhys Hoskins said, would have to pick their poison.
Instead, the production has been shouldered largely by two players: Harper and J.T. Realmuto.
So it was easy to see why Harper was so frustrated over just one out. Harper and Realmuto accounted for all four runs on Thursday night -- Realmuto twice homered Harper in -- and have combined for 40% of the team’s 67 RBIs and half of the team’s 22 homers.
The Phillies have a .790 OPS, the fourth-best mark in baseball, indicating a deep lineup. But remove the production of Harper (1.202 OPS) and Realmuto (1.088) and the team’s OPS drops to .695, which would be the seventh-lowest in the majors. If the Phillies are to reach October, they’ll need more than just two hitters.
“I think it’s a little bit more than two, but I know what you’re saying,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We have to get everyone involved. We have to get some guys swinging the bat better because they’re capable of doing it and some guys have gotten off to slow starts, which has not helped us. But we have to find a way. That’s all you can do. You keep working. You keep working on your swing, your trade. You keep teaching and hopefully we can get them right.”
They were swept by the Baltimore Orioles, outplayed for three straight nights by a team that lost 108 games last season. Wednesday night was so one-sided that the Phillies called on infielder Neil Walker to pitch the ninth inning.
It was the first time the Orioles swept a three-game series on the road since 2017. The Phillies have lost nine of their first 14 games, digging themselves quite the hole to begin a 60-game season.
This was supposed to be the easy series before Jacob deGrom and the Mets arrived Friday. If the Phillies lose to deGrom, they’ll have to win 26 of their final 45 games -- a .578 pace -- to finish the season with a winning record. Finishing above .500 will be tough, reaching the playoffs will be even harder.
“It’s concerning,” Realmuto said. “Nobody wants to start off 5-9 whether it’s a 162-game season or not. But this shortened season we have to get it going quicker than we normally would. It’s definitely being talked about in the clubhouse.”
Jake Arrieta allowed four runs on seven hits before being lifted with two outs in the fifth inning. The Phillies spotted Arrieta a two-run lead in the fourth and he dug them a two-run hole the very next inning. It was the third straight night that a Phillies starter blew a lead in the inning after the team built it.
Tom Eshelman held the Phillies to two runs in five innings as the 2017 Phillies minor-league pitcher of the year had success against his old club. The Phillies traded him last summer to Baltimore after not placing the righthander in a minor-league rotation at the start of 2019. The Orioles sent the Phillies money to spend on the international free-agent market.
“We obviously haven’t performed up to our standards, that’s for sure,” Arrieta said. “But there’s really no time to worry about that. We just have to play better. That’s basically the bottom line. If we don’t start to play better, we’re going to be in a tough spot.
“We already have to catch up quite a bit. We know it’s going to be a tough road ahead. We’ve got to face deGrom tomorrow and a pretty good team in the Mets for the next three games, and then we go on the road for quite a while. There’s no reason we can’t start to play really good baseball on a consistent basis. We’ve got the guys to do it.”
Vince Velasquez entered in the sixth as a reliever and allowed two runs in the seventh, likely meaning that Spencer Howard will start Friday night. Connor Brogdon made his major-league debut and the first pitch he threw in the eighth inning was hammered for a three-run homer. He inherited the two runners from Austin Davis, who retired one of three batters he faced.
The Phillies tried patching their bullpen this week with reinforcements from the minors, but the unit still allowed seven runs Thursday and has a major-league worst 9.63 ERA. Walker recorded two outs and actually lowered the bullpen ERA. It’s hard to determine if the bullpen or the lineup has been more troubling.
Alec Bohm doubled in his first at-bat and went 1-for-4 after being promoted in the afternoon from Lehigh Valley. The team’s top prospect will likely get a chance to play nearly everyday, perhaps providing a spark to a lineup that is desperate for one.
Harper doubled in the fourth inning and Realmuto, the next batter, followed with a homer to right center. That stood as the offensive output until Harper tripled in the eighth inning. And Realmuto, again, followed with a homer to right field. If not Harper or Realmuto, who else would?
“I think it’s just such a short sample size that it’s hard to get too frustrated right now,” Realmuto said. “If Harp and I go into a slump for the next week or two we fully expect that somebody in the lineup is going to pick us up. That’s just kind of how baseball works. Very rarely do you get the whole team syncing together or you’d be scoring 15 runs a game.