Why Can’t the Phillies Keep Momentum After they Score Runs?

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies lost again Tuesday, 4-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks – a team who has a legit lineup, plays very good defense, and their pitching… well… the first two things are true.

But even a team with not the greatest pitching staff is finding success against the Phillies right now because the they’re putting so much pressure on themselves in individual situations that they are completely out of sorts.

As I chronicled Tuesday, players normally adept at clobbering left-handed pitching are suddenly feeble.

Today, we look at a beleaguered pitching staff, including guys who have been quite reliable, struggling to get through a clean inning immediately after after their offense has provided some life.

It’s not like the Phillies pitchers were poor Tuesday.

Yes, Matt Strahm gave up a 2-run homer in the second inning, but otherwise was fine. Newly-acquired Dylan Covey surprised absolutely everyone with a bulk relief appearance behind Strahm (who was maxed at two innings). Covey threw five innings, allowed just one run, coming on the first two batters he faced, and struck out six. and despite a bad appearance from Seranthony Dominguez that resulted in another run, Gregory Soto did a fine job of dancing out of a troublesome spot and Yunior Marte gave them a 1-2-3 inning.

So… what’s the issue with pitching? After all, it was the lineup that couldn’t produce enough runs for the Phillies in their latest loss?

Well, there’s this:

Edit: After double-checking, it’s actually 20-for-39, not 20-for-35. I missed something the first go round. It’s still not good). 

When you are allowing runs in the very next opponent’s at bat immediately after you score, it’s deflating. Doing it more than half the time it happens has even more adverse effects.

“It’s been four in a row,” manager Rob Thomson said when I asked him about it after the game. “Those are things you got to do. When you get the momentum you have to maintain it and shut them down.”

It’s like the Phillies have this, “uh oh, here we go again,” mentality right now.

They get behind, and they press at the plate. Then, when there are times when the offense is producing and gets back into the game, the pitchers are pressing because they’re so worried about coughing up that momentum Thomson was talking about.

It’s a mindset that creeps in, especially when expectations are high.

Just using Tuesday as a microcosm, Covey pitched really well in his Phillies debut, but the one run he did allow came in the top of the third following the Phillies scoring in the bottom of the second. And it was an incredibly fluky hop:

Balls that hit the ground off the bat three feet from the plate rarely become a triple. In fact, that ball had an expected batting average of .150 – but hey, this is where things are right now for the Phillies.

The second shutdown inning failure came in the eighth inning when Dominguez gave up a leadoff double to scorching-hot Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. (16-game hitting streak), and then promptly walked Christian Walker and yielded a double to Corbin Carroll before hitting the showers:

Now, Dominguez hasn’t been great this season, but he has pitched his way through some spots, as evidenced by the fact that he went five weeks without allowing an earned run.

So, you see, it’s even happening to guys who aren’t regularly coughing up runs.

In fact, it’s happened to 12 different pitchers for the Phillies this month. Three times the runs were unearned, meaning bad defense also came into play, and then there are a couple of instances, Covey’s most recently, that are rooted in bad luck.

In the end, you have to find a way out of this, because in baseball many times there is a cause and effect. And considering 90 percent of this sport is mental, repeated things like failing to keep momentum can really weigh on you, no matter how good a player you are.

There’s nothing the Phillies can do to fix this mechanically. Nothing needs to change with how pitchers pitch, or how they are used, or by practicing harder, or mixing pitches differently or any of that. This is purely a headspace thing, and right now, all the Phillies frustrations are living rent-free in their collective minds.

For the second straight game, Bryce Harper has had some choice words.

On Monday he talked about a need for more urgency from the team. And while he did use that word again Tuesday, it was preceded by a bunch more.

“Every guy is going to have to look in the mirror and understand what their job is, what their role is,” he said. “I don’t like the mindset of, ‘Oh it’s early, it’s May.’ You play this game with urgency.”

The Phillies have lost 13-of-20, all but one since the calendar flipped to May. They face a heck of a pitcher in Zack Gallen on Wednesday before heading out on a 10-game road trip that makes pit stops in Atlanta and New York before the month is out.

Although June is the month the Phillies kicked it into high gear a season ago, they can’t wait any longer, because if they don’t get their heads right, they could be buried before June even gets here.