Four-Game Set Against the Blue Jays Showed Phillies’ True Colors
Positive emotions were high after the Phillies took the final two games of a three-game set against the division-rival Washington Nationals, making them winners of eight of their previous 12 games and leaving them one game over .500, just 1.5 games out of first place. As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb noted on Twitter prior to Monday’s series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays at home, a win would have put them two games above .500 for the first time in 581 days.
What ensured over the next four days was some of the most frustrating, embarrassing, and pitiful baseball the Phillies have played since the turn of the millennium.
I’ll recap the series. If you saw the entire series or just don’t want to read all of that, skip to the second set of asterisks.
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In the first game, the Phillies were shutout by their former teammate and author of a career 4.21 ERA J.A. Happ. While the game wasn’t awful, it started on the wrong foot with Jose Reyes leading off the game with a home run, something he had done to the Phillies on two other occasions, against Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla. The Phillies scored zero runs against Happ and the Jays’ beleaguered bullpen.
The Phillies scored their only run in the first inning of their 1-0 victory over the Nationals in the series finale prior to the Jays’ series, which meant that entering the second game, they had gone 17 innings without scoring a run. The Phillies fell behind 4-0 after four innings and the Jays tacked on a sixth-inning run to make it 5-0 against Cole Hamels with yet another poor outing. But in the bottom-half of the sixth, the Phillies’ offense exploded, with Cody Asche hitting a game-tying grand slam. Even that, however, was not enough as the Jays took a tenth-inning 6-5 lead thanks to some poor relief work by Antonio Bastardo.
Game three, the first of two in Toronto, was supposed to have been a pitcher’s duel between seasoned lefties Cliff Lee and Mark Buehrle. And it was, through six innings as the Jays held on to a narrow 1-0 lead. Lee, sadly, lost it in the seventh and the Jays’ offense exploded for a nine-run inning. Former Phillies back-up catcher Erik Kratz hit a no-doubt two-run home run off of Lee, and it was soon followed up by an absolute rocket of a two-run home run by Juan Francisco. Lee managed to get one out before allowing a double to Steve Tolleson, ending his night. The combination of relievers Mario Hollands and Shawn Camp combined to blow the game completely open. Hollands’ stint went wild pitch, walk, stolen base, strikeout wild pitch. Camp’s night went RBI single, three-run home run (to Edwin Encarnacion), single, ground ball double play. Ugly in every sense of the word. And the Phillies were shut out and lost by a 10-0 margin.
Going into game four, the Phillies had scored in exactly one of their previous 34 innings. The pitching match-up was A.J. Burnett, who had been on a roll, against R.A. Dickey and his 5.01 ERA. The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, giving them their second frame with a run in their previous 36 innings. The lead was not long for this world. In the bottom half of the second, Burnett sandwiched an RBI ground out by Adam Lind with solo home runs to Encarnacion and Colby Rasmus to make it 3-1 Jays. Going into the bottom of the sixth, the Phillies were still within striking distance down 5-2, but Burnett was laboring and gave up a two-run home run to Lind, effectively putting the game out of reach. Luis Garcia, a recent call-up, poured salt on the wound, serving up a two-run home run to Encarnacion — his second of the game and fourth of the series — and a solo homer to Juan Francisco. Melky Cabrera laced a two-run triple to center to make it 12-3. The Phillies added a trio of garbage-time runs on a Ben Revere RBI single and a Ryan Howard two-run home run, but they ultimately lost 12-6.
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Over the four-game series, the Phillies were outscored 31-11, an average of nearly 8-to-3 each game. Phillies’ pitchers allowed an aggregate .286/.336/.562 slash line to opposing hitters. That’s an .898 OPS, which would qualify as the 22nd-highest OPS in baseball. Imagine if the Phillies had to face a lineup full of nine iterations of San Francisco Giants outfielder Michael Morse (.286/.336/.571) or a less average-happy Adrian Beltre circa 2012 (.321/.359/.561; he finished third in AL MVP voting, by the way). It’s absurd how poorly the Phillies pitched and how well the Jays hit.
As a result of the beatdown at the hands of the Jays, the Phillies are tied for the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball at 4.97, tied with the Detroit Tigers and ahead of only the Houston Astros (6.16). The Phillies also fell towards the bottom-half of the pack in rotation ERA (3.97, 18th-best) and now tie for the 21st-best weighted on-base average at .302. The club’s -31 run differential is the third-worst in the National League behind the San Diego Padres (-39) and Arizona Diamondbacks (-62). The Astros, of course, are the only American League team with a worse run differential (-61).
Everything that happened against the Jays — the offensive drought, the shaky starting pitching, the tire fire that is the bullpen — were problems everyone had already identified. Domonic Brown and Ben Revere have done next-to-nothing offensively; Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have cooled off; Freddy Galvis dug his ditch deeper (two hits in 46 plate appearances); and third base still remains a detriment. With the rotation, Hamels was making only his third start of the season and had recently gotten over the flu; Burnett was due for a bit of regression; and Kyle Kendrick is Kyle Kendrick. And the bullpen is the bullpen. The defense was the defense — Revere and Tony Gwynn, Jr. were embarrassing, and the infield had some awkwardness implementing the shift.
Unfortunately, the Phillies are that 75-win team everyone predicted that they would be before the season. Prior to the Jays series, the Phillies were a couple wins better than we would have expected given their run differential, and now they’re where we expect them to be, three games under .500 with a .455 winning percentage — a 74-win pace. To paraphrase Dennis Green’s famous rant, the Phillies are who we thought they were.
That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement, but there are a ton of ifs that have to be addressed in order for that to happen. The odds, however, of having enough of those ifs come true to push the Phillies into contender status are not great and it means we’re likely in for a long summer.