What Went Down: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If the Phillies play listless baseball, impotently flailing away at pitches from Noah Syndergaard and a slew of Mets relievers on the way to a fourth loss in their first five games and no one streams it on Facebook, did it even happen?
It did? Oh.
Still, the absolute best thing that happened to the Phillies this week-there was not much to choose from- was that a rare scheduled Sunday off and Monday night’s snow-out were followed by two games against the Mets that were unable to be viewed on television. While you weren’t streaming, the Phillies offense flat-lined, striking out a ridiculous 15 times this afternoon, while producing only two runs on eight hits over the short two-game set at Citi Field.
What I Liked: Aaron Nola. He overcame a shaky first frame to give the Phillies five quality innings in his second start of the season. He allowed two earned runs on four hits, while striking out four. An uncharacteristic four walks helped drive up his pitch count and cut his day a bit short. Nola’s early season performance has been one of the lone bright spots thus far. Now, he just has to get deeper into games.
Losing Conventionally? I know, I am grasping at straws, but isn’t it nice to lose the old-fashioned way? Yeah, I don’t know. I’m trying here.
If the losses in Atlanta were on the manager, then the losses in New York were on the players. I was as hard as anybody on Gabe Kapler for yanking Nola last Thursday, but after 87 pitches through five innings, I was in agreement with him on removing his starter when he did this time around. It’s true that Nola had settled in after a bumpy start, but I’m not sure that I want him reaching a triple-digit pitch count only six days after the manager thought that 68 pitches was the breaking point.
That Drew Hutchison allowed a two-out, two-run triple to Amed Rosario, to me, isn’t on the manager…or is it?
According to Statcast, Nick Williams was playing 245 feet from home plate on the Rosario triple. Average right fielder's starting position at Citi Field last year was 297 feet.
— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) April 4, 2018
They can’t even lose without a controversy. We were doing so well.
Update: It turns out it was absolutely Kapler’s fault. #Data
Spoke to one rival evaluator about the Phillies' defensive positioning in RF, and he said that Williams had been stationed very shallow repeatedly, for other hitters, and the talk among some scouts before Rosario's at-bat was whether he'd get burned.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 5, 2018
Still, whatever the case, the guys in the bullpen have to execute, and Hutchison wasn’t sharp in the sixth. When a team isn’t playing well, every mistake is magnified and the margin for error shrinks. That is what we are seeing with the Phillies right now, and we are seeing it because the offense has been flat-out miserable. SIX (SIX!) of the eight position players in the starting lineup finished the day hitting below .200. Small sample sizes? Yep. If we were looking at a five-game stretch in mid-June, I’m sure that nobody would even notice, but it has been a brutal start for a handful of players that entered the season with great expectations. It is true that the manager has been bad, but the players have not been all that much better.
— Jay Floyd (@PhoulBallz) April 4, 2018
A patient approach. For years, the Phillies have too frequently wasted at-bats because of a lack of plate discipline and an overly-aggressive approach. While they haven’t swung the bats well through this first week of the season, they have showed improved patience. The Phillies forced Syndergaard to throw 76 pitches through the first three innings, including 36 pitches in the two-run third. He lasted only four innings and needed 92 pitches to do it. If you are looking for reasons to be optimistic, and I suspect that you might be, then this is one of the very few. If the Phillies continue to grind pitchers this way, they will eventually get more offensive production. I think. Maybe.
Good luck. With Aaron Altherr at the plate with two outs in a first and third situation in the third inning, the Phillies appeared to have run themselves out of a scoring opportunity when Rhys Hoskins was caught in a run-down between first and second base. Hoskins bought just enough time (by possibly being out of the base path) to allow Carlos Santana to break for home. A perfect slide by Santana just beat Adrian Gonzalez’s throw to tie the game at 2-2. Credit to Gabe Kapler for rolling the dice, assuming the play was by design, in attempt ignite an offense that is currently struggling to create runs by conventional methods.
Who or What Pissed Me Off: Situational Hitting. An overlooked aspect of the Phillies’ Opening Day loss was the offense’s inability to execute situationally in the late innings. A seventh-inning Rhys Hoskins leadoff double was wasted in that game, and it came back to bite the Phillies in the ass. Desperately needing to push a run across in the second inning, Maikel Franco came to the plate after Hoskins again started the inning with a double. He later stole third base with one out, thus leaving Franco only needing to produce a fly ball or a ground ball to the middle infield in order to generate a run. He promptly struck out. With everybody not named Rhys Hoskins fighting off early-season slumps, this is the type of situation the Phillies need to execute until a few guys in this lineup get going.
J.P. Crawford. Crawford struggled mightily at the plate during the first half of last season. He posted a concerning .211/.328/.330 slash line over his first 76 games at Lehigh Valley before rebounding with a .287/.385/.513 performance over his next 51 games. In attempt to keep this somewhat positive, I am referencing these numbers to suggest Crawford isn’t incapable of bouncing back from a sluggish start. After all, the season is only five games old. But my concern isn’t necessarily with the output, it’s with the swing.
Here he is ahead in the count 3-1 in the fourth inning against Syndergaard:
Look at catcher Kevin Plawecki’s target and then look at Crawford’s placement in the batter’s box. It is extremely difficult for him to get his hands and barrel from the starting position down to a pitch executed in this zone. The result, in this particular case, was a lazy fly ball to straight-away center field. There needs to be some type of modification to this swing, or Major League pitchers will continue to take advantage of what is a sizable weakness.
Now What? The Phillies limp home to face the Miami Marlins tomorrow at 3:05 pm for their home opener. It will be Caleb Smith for the Marlins, while Nick Pivetta tries to stop the bleeding for the Phillies. All eyes will be on the home crowd to see what type of reception they give a team and manager that could not have had a worst first week of the season. It should be quite interesting, even if the baseball isn’t.