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(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Phillies Stars Still Shining, But Early Holes Loom Large: 7th-Day Stretch

After a career-long seven game home-run drought to start 2021, Bryce Harper is heating up, which hopes to be a sign of things to come for his teammates. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

A pair of rainy days led to two off-days this week and six Phillies games instead of seven. Things didn’t start great, with a “sweep” at the hands of the New York Mets, though the series technically doesn’t conclude until Thursday’s game is made up on June 25. But they rebounded nicely in a return to home, taking two of three against the St. Louis Cardinals, holding the Red Birds to two combined runs in the Phils’ victories. They will face a team not projected by most to make the Postseason for the first time next week.1

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. The Phillies’ centerfielders have not recorded a hit since April 6. They are 0/22 in that span. Roman Quinn has just one hit all season. Adam Haseley is not currently on the roster after being placed on the restrictive list due to personal reasons. Mickey Moniak is 0/8 since his call-up and 1/22 in his career. The Phillies thought about improving the position in the offseason but decided to bet on those internal options to hold down the fort. Needless to say, they’ve been under siege since Opening Day.

But perhaps the biggest, or at least most importation, question mark lies in the back-half of the rotation. Matt Moore and Chase Anderson were brought in to eat innings, but they have been eaten alive more often than not. Neither has recorded a start longer than five innings in their first five combined starts. Moore got the hook in the third inning Saturday after allowing four runs with two outs and nearly hitting the pitcher with the bases loaded, prompting a rare mid-at-bat pitching change. Both have failed to use their strong springs as springboards, leaving Joe Girardi in a tough spot.

Outings like those puts pressure on the bullpen, which lost Archie Bradley (10-day IL) to an oblique injury, to pitch a lot of quality innings to keep the Phillies in games. It puts a lot of pressure on Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin to be excellent in their starts to give the bullpen some rest. Pressure can be a good thing, but it usually doesn’t need to start building in April. Eflin threw seven shutout innings Friday before giving up two in the eighth; Nola went the distance without giving up a run Sunday. The Phillies won both of those games. But Wheeler and Nola didn’t have their sharpest stuff in Queens, and the Phillies lost both games. It’s not rocket science, folks.

Granted, it’s not like the offense gave them much margin for error in those games, scoring a combined one run. The Phillies struck out fourteen times Wednesday. They have the 8th most strikeouts in the Majors, which is part of the reason why they are 23rd in runs scored. With basically the same lineup, the Phillies finished with the 8th fewest strikeouts and the 5th most runs. There’s unsurprisingly a strong cause-correlation effect in play there.

The good news, as last year’s numbers show, is the Phillies are capable of being better. Case in point: Friday. In the second inning, they put three consecutive balls in play that should’ve been outs. But Paul DeJong couldn’t plant his foot on a grounder deep in the hole. Matt Carpenter couldn’t get his glove down on a grounder to his left. And Dylan Carlson lost a routine fly ball in the lights to drive in a run. Carlos Martinez then hit Zach Eflin with a plate another runner.

The Phillies didn’t just enjoy those good breaks; they followed them up with two-run doubles by Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper. McCutchen drove in a run later in the game on a grounder that plopped into shallow left after hitting the third-base bag. That’s what good offenses do; put the pressure on opposing defenses, and when they slip up, take control of the game.

The Cardinals gave the Phillies an inch, and they took it a mile.” – Phillies analyst Ricky Bottalico

The Phillies won’t always get that lucky, of course. But the moral of the story is good things happen when you put the ball in play. But finding a balance between swinging for the fences and situational hitting will be key in getting the offense to reach the high standards it set last season. A team with those aforementioned pitching weaknesses needs to be higher than 23rd in runs scored to be good.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. If the Phillies were playing these games in July, Bryce Harper would very likely have an eight plate-appearance on-base streak (he singled in his next at-bat after that Tweet was sent). Nola gave the bullpen their rest with his first career nine-inning complete game Sunday (he threw a seven-inning one in a doubleheader last year, which he said didn’t really count). The Phillies’ star power has rarely been in question over the last three seasons. But for this season to have a happier ending, the Phillies either need those players to transcend to another level or for their depth to pick up the slack. Both would be preferable, of course.

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