Among the many criticisms about the Phillies that have been tossed out there since the start of the season, the most recent has been that the starting rotation hasn’t been going deep enough into games, forcing manager Ryne Sandberg to rely on his bullpen more heavily and more frequently than he would like. Sandberg himself said as much in Bob Brookover’s column posted this morning:
Last night’s bullpen meltdown brought calls for Double-A reliever Ken Giles to a fever pitch. Giles, 23, has gotten off to a fast start with Reading, striking out 14, walking two, notching five saves, all without allowing a single run in six innings of work. Giles throws a fastball which reaches the triple digits along with a power slider. GM Ruben Amaro said of the Phillies promoting Giles earlier on WIP, “I think you have to think about it.”
Monday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves was ugly for myriad reasons; the bullpen responsible for nearly all of them. To recap, it was a fairly close game after seven innings. Starter Roberto Hernandez yielded only two runs to the Braves, on a two-run home run by Evan Gattis. Mario Hollands pitched a scoreless seventh inning. The Phillies managed just one run off of Braves starter Ervin Santana, which came on a second-inning solo home run by Ryan Howard. Once it got to the eighth inning, things got out of hand.
Reliever B.J. Rosenberg took the mound and the Braves brought the lumber. Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla, and Andrelton Simmons hit back-to-back-to-back solo home runs in rapid-fire succession, putting the game seemingly out of reach at 5-1. Luis Garcia relieved Rosenberg and was able to escape the eighth with no further damage. Entering the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies’ win probability sat at a meager four percent.
Just as the Braves’ bats woke up, so too did the Phillies’. Luis Avilan relieved Anthony Varvaro and was immediately put to the test by the top of the Phillies’ lineup. Tony Gwynn, Jr. walked, and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both singled to load the bases. Ryan Howard struck out (hey, it was against a lefty!), but Marlon Byrd picked him up with a two-run single to right field. Domonic Brown put the cherry on top of the inning with a go-ahead three-run home run to make it 6-5 in favor of the Phillies. Their win probability stood at 84 percent at the conclusion of the bottom of the eighth.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon had pitched in three consecutive games, so manager Ryne Sandberg opted to have the normally-reliable Jake Diekman close out the ninth, but it was not to be. Diekman could not hit the strike zone whatsoever. The lefty walked B.J. Upton to lead off the top of the ninth, then fell behind Freddie Freeman before he tapped a grounder to Utley at second base, who flipped to second base to get the lead runner, but he was a hair too late. Diekman walked Justin Upton to load the bases. With his back against the wall, Diekman fired some 97-98 MPH fastballs by Evan Gattis and retired him on strikes for the first out, revealing light at the end of the tunnel. But it was not to be, as Uggla joined Gattis in the two-homer party, crushing a grand slam to left field to give the Braves a 9-6 lead. At the conclusion of the top of the ninth, the Phillies were back down to four percent win probability. This time it stuck. David Carpenter closed out the bottom of the ninth with Craig Kimbrel resting with a sore shoulder.
Now that the recap is over and we have context, time to get into the meat of the matter:
You know about Chase Utley, but how about everyone else? After getting swept by the Brewers, the Phillies turned around and swept the Marlins in a three-game series in which they averaged five runs per game. More shockingly, they drew 15 walks in total over the set, bringing their league-leading walk rate over 10 percent.
Jimmy Rollins was the hero on Saturday night as the Phillies walked off 5-4 winners against the Miami Marlins. Despite Giancarlo Stanton‘s efforts, hitting two home runs — including one that went 470 feet — and knocking in three runs, the bullpen was able to keep the Phillies in the game in the eighth, ninth, and tenth innings before Rollins took Dan Jennings deep for a solo home run.
Now that Freddy Galvis is done being a MRSA infected clubhouse hazard, the Phillies have received a boost to their infield defense and depth with his return to the active roster. Galvis replaced Cesar Hernandez on the roster and although Hernandez is not a defensive liability, he is still a novice at any position other than second base and may not have the skill set for shortstop. Galvis on the other hand is a plus, if not elite, defender at both middle infield positions and last year he added third base to his defensive repertoire. By keeping Jayson Nix, the Phillies now have two reserve infielders who offer little offensive value, but are experienced at 2B, SS, and 3B. The apparent redundancy in carrying both of these players leads me to believe this roster construction is more likely to be temporary than permanent, but at least for now, the presence of both Galvis and Nix provides Ryne Sandberg with the flexibility to use a defensive replacement at third base for Cody Asche at the end of games if he so chooses.
I don’t mean to alarm you, but Chase Utley is on fire. He’s hot, and I don’t mean aesthetically. Utley has hit safely in all eight games he as played in to start the 2014 season, and now has a 13-game hitting streak dating back to last season. In five of his eight games thus far, he has at least two hits; he’s had three hits in two games. Overall, he is enjoying a .469/.541/.750 slash line in 37 trips to the plate. Despite being a 35-year-old baseball player, it appears Utley still has plenty left in the tank.
The Phillies are on a four-game losing streak and are coming off of a series sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The defense was awful, as 10 of the 52 runs the Phillies have allowed this season have been unearned. The bullpen has been unreliable, posting an aggregate 5.40 ERA. Even the offense has disappeared, with the Phillies averaging 3.25 runs per game during their losing streak.
There’s plenty of frustration among Phillies fans and those in the media and it’s unlikely to be squelched tonight when the Phillies open up a three-game set with the Florida Marlins because Jose Fernandez will be on the mound.
In the top of the eighth inning on Wednesday, first baseman Ryan Howard misplayed a Logan Schafer ground ball that allowed a run to score to break a 4-4 tie. Schafer would come around to score on Ryan Braun‘s triple later in the inning as well, meaning the error was a costly one. After the game, manager Ryne Sandberg said that Howard’s knee injury — he tore his meniscus in early July last season — is still bothering him. Via CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank: