It isn’t only the Phillies’ center fielders who can’t hit right now.
Six games into a seven-game road swing, the swings are getting worse. It has been a slog for a team that’s built to slug. Rather than striking quickly, the Phillies are striking out. A lot. Fourteen more times, in fact, Wednesday night in New York in a 5-1 loss to the Mets that dropped them to 1-5 on the trip after a 5-1 homestand to open the season.
Oh, and if the rain holds off Thursday, they will have to face Jacob deGrom, only the best pitcher on the planet, to stave off a four-game sweep at Citi Field.
“I need to have better at-bats,” said Bryce Harper, fresh off a three-strikeout game. “I think as a whole team we need to have that flow of at-bats as well. I think one guy right now is really doing his job and that’s J.T. [Realmuto]. Everybody else around him? Not doing so much.”
Indeed, the Phillies have scored four runs and collected two extra-base hits in the last three games against the Mets. They have 16 runs in the last six games in Atlanta and New York.
Much of the scrutiny has come upon No. 8-hitting center fielders Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn for their anemic production. But leadoff man Andrew McCutchen is 2-for-19 on the road trip; Rhys Hoskins 2-for-22; Harper 4-for-20. And they represent the first three hitters in the order.
After getting shut out on six hits in the second game of Tuesday night’s doubleheader, the Phillies didn’t pick up their first hit against Mets lefty David Peterson until Jean Segura’s solo home run with one out cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fifth inning.
But the Phillies finished with only three hits. With the tying run on third base and one out in the seventh inning against Mets lefty reliever Aaron Loup, Didi Gregorius came on as a pinch-hitter and grounded into a rally-killing double play.
Hey, at least he didn’t strike out.
The strikeouts are becoming an issue. The Phillies have fanned 14 times in two of the last three games. Excluding pitchers, they have struck out 109 times in 397 plate appearances, a 27.5% rate that is not only well above the league average (24.2% entering play Wednesday night) but also worse than their 21.6% rate last year.
“I don’t think our swings have been really big. I don’t think they’re out of control,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I just think we’re missing balls. We’re chasing a little bit, but I don’t see it as egregious chases. I don’t. We’re just not particularly swinging well right now.”
The muted offense wasted a gutsy start from Zack Wheeler, who gave up two runs in the first inning but pitched into the seventh and kept the Phillies within one run for most of the game before the Mets broke it open in the eighth with James McCann’s two-run homer off reliever JoJo Romero.
The Phillies took an aggressive approach against Peterson, perhaps emboldened by hitting him up for six runs in four innings one week earlier at Citizens Bank Park. They wound up making his life easy. He retired the side on seven pitches in the third inning, 10 in the fourth, and 14 in the fifth.
In three at-bats against Peterson, McCutchen saw a total of six pitches and grounded out three times. Harper swung through three consecutive pitches in the fourth inning and flew out on the first pitch in the sixth.
“He attacked us a little bit different this time than the last two times he’s thrown against us,” Harper said. “He kind of flipped the script against us there. Sitting right here, I need to be better. I’m in that 3-hole, I need to start getting on base more. I need to have better at-bats.”
If it was only one hitter, the Phillies have a deep enough lineup to get by. But until Segura’s homer, only Realmuto hit the ball hard against Peterson. He should’ve had a hit in the second inning on a fly ball to deep left field that clanged off Dom Smith’s glove and arm. He also lined out hard to right field in the fourth inning.
“I think any time you don’t hit it’s frustrating,” Girardi said. “But all teams are going to go through this at some point this year. It looks like we’re trying to get it out of the way early.”
It is early, and as Girardi noted, the Phillies have faced only the Braves and Mets, strong teams with quality starting pitching. The Phillies will eventually snap this team-wide slump, but it won’t be their last.
Harper, however, isn’t interested in hearing about how early it is.
“It’s one of my least favorite sayings in the world,” Harper said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s early or it’s late. You need to go out there with the preparedness and with the ability to play the game of baseball. I need to be good, and our whole team does as well.”