THE LESSON to Phillies fans from last night: Pray.
Or, if you are a nihilist, sit back and enjoy the ride.
We can argue all we want about the viability of this Phillies team as it has been constructed during the first 5 weeks of play. The biggest question is whether that unit can stay healthy. Because last night, in a 3-0 loss to the Blue Jays, its alarming lack of depth was on clear display. The lineup featured three fill-ins, not one of whom was hitting close to .200. They were John Mayberry Jr., Freddy Galvis and Jayson Nix, and they entered the night hitting a combined 11-for-88 with three extra-base hits, 31 strikeouts and seven walks. Throw in pitcher Kyle Kendrick in the nine hole, and centerfielder Ben Revere at leadoff, and the Nos. 7 through 2 sequence in the order had produced a total of five extra-base hits in 207 plate appearances.
No runs, three hits, none of them for extra bases: that's what the Phillies managed against J.A. Happ last night, despite the fact that Happ, in his first start of the season, walked twice as many as he struck out (four to two) and threw 32 of his 80 pitches for balls.
"We had some opportunities in the first three innings with men on base, but we couldn't get the big hit," manager Ryne Sandberg said after the loss, which dropped the Phillies to 15-15.
It's hard to make a pitcher feel pressure when he is always one batter away from facing a replacement-level hitter.
In the second inning, they had men on first and second with one out, then sent Mayberry, Nix and Kendrick to the plate. Mayberry flied out, Nix walked and Kendrick grounded out. In the fourth, Mayberry drew a one-out walk, but the next four hitters that Happ would face entered the night with the following OPSes: .501, .222, .617, .120.
The Phillies entered the day with a 5-3 record in games started by a lefthanded pitcher, but two of them were 1-0 shutouts. The Blue Jays wasted little time in eliminating that possibility: Jose Reyes homered on Kendrick's third pitch. By the end of the second inning, Toronto had a 3-0 lead against a lineup with exactly four players who have consistently demonstrated an ability to make up that kind of deficit with one swing of the bat.
This is what we saw throughout last season, when the Phillies routinely fielded lineups that belonged an hour up the Northeast Extension. The reason we have not seen it yet this season is that Ryan Howard is back at first base and Jimmy Rollins has rediscovered his swing and Marlon Byrd is hitting better than Delmon Young ever did and Carlos Ruiz is hitting like the guy we saw 2 years ago and Chase Utley is hitting like the guy we saw 5 years ago.
Take any one of them away for any amount of time and, well, just keep in mind that, as improved as they are from this time last season, the Phillies still entered yesterday ranked seventh in the NL in runs per game, sixth in on-base percentage, 11th in home run and extra-base hit percentage, 10th in walk percentage, and ninth in strikeout percentage.
And that isn't even the scariest part.
For that, as is customary, we turn to the bullpen, where last night Sandberg was determined to stay away from Antonio Bastardo and Mike Adams, both of whom had pitched on 3 straight days. That meant an agonizing seventh inning for Kendrick, who rebounded from his rough start but was nevertheless nearing the end of his tank after the sixth.
Kendrick's 111th pitch soared over the top of Ruiz's glove. His 109th pitch had hit Jose Bautista in the ribs. Fortunately for Sandberg, Kendrick's 114th found the ground off Edwin Encarnacion's bat and rolled straight to Galvis, who initiated a doubleplay that ended the inning. Jake Diekman held the Blue Jays scoreless in the eighth and ninth, and everything worked out fine for the night. But the reality is that Sandberg has only four strikeout arms at his disposal in the bullpen, and those four guys can't pitch every night, and if you take one of them away for any stretch of time, well, this is a family newspaper, so we probably shouldn't get into that kind of hypothetical.
Hey, we get it - life's no fun if it's lived with future negatives already factored in. But given the bleakness offered by last night's glimpse at the next men up, as well as the inevitability of injuries over the course of a baseball season - Galvis was at shortstop because Jimmy Rollins tweaked his groin - it is hard to ignore the tenuous nature of the Phillies' personnel structure.