It’s a $240 million ballclub full of players in their prime, playing like thrift-shop has-beens. Faith is a hard thing to keep in times such as these.
The Phillies just finished a week in which four inexcusable defensive plays helped ensure a 2-5 record: Nick Castellanos interfered with center fielder Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera let an overthrow roll past him, and Alec Bohm and Johan Camargo botched foul-pop catches on consecutive nights in Queens.
They’ve now lost six of their last seven, three of them thanks to their bullpen in the final at-bat, the last two thanks to closer Corey Knebel.
They ended Monday’s 5-4, 10-inning loss seven games under .500 and 11 games out of first place in the National League East, their worst 48-game mark since Pete Mackanin’s group in 2017 was 13 games under and 12½ games out. That season, Maikel Franco hit .230, Tommy Joseph hit .240, Nick Pivetta had a 6.02 ERA, and the franchise stomped on the reset button.
Several teams in baseball history have dug out of far greater holes in far less time, but, In their 140 seasons, the Phillies have never reached the postseason after trailing in the divisional or league standings by 10½ games. They’re not the losingest team in sports history for nothing. It’s a culture.
But there is hope for the hapless, because this is the first season of a three-team wild card. What has devalued the sanctity of a 162-game grind provides a glimmer of light down a long, long tunnel.
How it stacks up
The Phillies entered Monday just five games out of that third wild-card spot with three teams ahead of them. Also on Monday, the Phillies began a three-game series with the visiting Giants, who sat in that wild-card spot. Arizona visits for three games June 10-12, and the Diamondbacks were 1½ games ahead of the Phils on Monday.
So, as badly as things have gone, the Phillies can directly improve their lot in the next two weeks.
What’s more, they play the Braves, whom they trail by 2½ games, six more times before the Aug. 2 “sell-or-buy” trade deadline, and a total 14 more times before the season’s end. They saw the Giants on Monday for the first of their six games against each other this season. They also play the Diamondbacks for a total of six games, and they went 5-2 in their season series against the Rockies, whom they trailed by a half-game.
Again: Faint glimmer, long tunnel, but light nonetheless.
Why it matters
The Phillies’ starters have pitched solidly, as expected, and the defense has been poor, as expected. But while the bullpen has been unexpectedly leaky, the bats have been the biggest disappointment. Only two hitters have produced to their norms: reigning MVP Bryce Harper and contact hitter Jean Segura.
The $100 million right fielder, Castellanos, just slogged through a 17-game slump in which he hit .181 with no homers. The $79 million left fielder, Kyle Schwarber, entered Monday hitting .181 for the season, with the rare distinction of being a regular leadoff hitter who led the National League in strikeouts, with 63.
Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies’ poster child for analytic offensive efficiency with an .847 career OPS, hasn’t had an OPS over .800 in almost six weeks and went 19 games in April without a homer. Harper, the team’s de facto GM, forced the Phillies to sign catcher J.T. Realmuto for $115.5 million in 2021, but the man with the 33rd-highest average salary has a .370 slugging percentage, which ranks 124th.
Entering Monday, Realmuto was 83 points below his career slugging percentage. Schwarber was 56 points below his career batting average. Hoskins was 196 points below his career OPS. Castellanos averaged 30 homers per 162 games the last five seasons, but was on pace for 20.
“It’s no secret, we haven’t slugged the way that maybe we thought we would,” Hoskins said. “Doesn’t mean that we won’t.”
If the bats turn around, will their fortunes?
There were glimmers of hope Monday.
Castellanos homered for the second straight game and had two hits. Hoskins, hitting .128 in his last 10 games, hit his first homer in 11 games. Schwarber got his first hits in five games (0-for-18), including a tying home run in the bottom of the ninth (Realmuto had the day off).
Mickey Moniak, fresh off the injured list, made a sparkling play in center field.
It wasn’t all pretty, of course. They still managed to lose.
The Phillies and catatonic manager Joe Girardi still ran themselves out of a game-winning scoring opportunity when, with Hoskins at bat, pinch runner Roman Quinn was thrown out to end the ninth.
Knebel still gave up a Memorial Day solo home run in the ninth inning. It also was the second straight day he’d pitched. He pitched more than one inning the day before, so, by Girardi’s reckoning, Knebel probably won’t be available to pitch again until the Fourth of July.
The bats should really be hot by then.