The weather in the northeast has been unseasonably warm this spring. It was 13 degrees above the average today (nothing new), and the Phillies look to be feeling the heat (something new). Since the beginning of May the team has gone from ‘the best’ to ‘the rest’ and their seemingly insurmountable lead in National League East is gone. Beginning May 16th the team’s three wins in the last 11 games has the Philly faithful fretting. (Well they’re fretting quietly while the Flyers continue their inspired playoff run)
But, is it as all as bad as it appears? The simple answer is yes. It looks as if like we’ve been sending ghosts to the plate right? Since the Phillies’ ship capsized against the Pirates on May 16, the team has failed to score more than two runs in 8 of 11 games. Even in Roy Halladay’s fantastic perfect game (the 2nd in the franchise’s 127 years), the Phillies’ lone run was scored on a Cameron Maybin fielding error.
A lot of people (and I mean a lot of people) point towards Jimmy Rollin’s absence at the top our lineup. Rollins is a sparkplug and an absolute necessity if this team hopes to win in October, but the fact is J-roll has played only 2 weeks all season. After an injury in the first week of April, Rollins came back on May 12th. That same day he started a five day run, during which his average dropped 50 points he had one walk and zero stolen bases. Where his fielding is missed Wilson Valdez and Juan Castro have filled in adequately. Neither has made the costly errors that we could point to and say, “well Jimmy would’ve made that play.”
Looking elsewhere it’s clear our offense is in a rut. Both Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are the most obvious victims of our recent toils. Chase’s average has dropped 17 points, his OPS 108 points. He’s walked 6 fewer times and watched his On base percentage drop 45 points. At .277 he is hitting at his lowest clip since 2004. His at-bats recently have looked putrid. Chase Utley is the most professional hitter on this team, and it is certianly disconcerting watching him flail away at the plate.
The Jayson Werth, who reports say is in contract talks with the Phillies, has had the most precipitous fallout. Since hitting .325 at the beginning of the month his average has dropped 30 points (more than 50 since mid-May) and his OBP fallen 48 points. He shaved his bear last week but it did little to stop him from walking five fewer and striking out nine more times than April, including a lovely 4k showing in Florida. For the Phillies’ front office and their pending contract talks, this month has been good, but for the team and its fans, not so much.
However, in baseball rarely do two players’ troubles cost a team so greatly. In many ways the rest of the lineup has compensated for Werth and Utley’s struggles. The Valdez/Castro combo hit a steady .250. Shane Victorino hit 32 points better in May than April, while Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz have both added 26 points to their averages.
Ryan Howard has been steady if not better than ever. He’s hit .280 thus far and increased his average six points in May. For the month overall he improved his OPS and on base percentage. He struck out 6 more times this month last but also drew six more walks. Still, there is no denying the apparent woes of the Phillies and their 3-9 record the last half of the month is proof of something.
Call it a rut, a slump, swoon or funk something is happening or not happening. While the Phillies fans have been faithfully holding their prayer beads and chanting the mantra “It’s a 162 game season – It’s a 162…”, the talk radio stations, water cooler conversations, blogospheres, and social networks, rumble with discontent. The team is in a funk and there is no single person to blame. But, and I say this as much for myself as all Phillies’ fans, we should be very far from losing hope. This same team that closed out May with a skid still went 16-12 for the month, a win better than April with the same number of losses and almost matching ’08 and ’09 when the Phillies went 17-12. If that isn’t enough, the Phillies’ pitching staff has allowed more than 30 fewer runs this year than the previous two, meaning not if, but when the bats come back the league had better take notice. One thing that can be said about this Phillies team is that it never gives up and has faced significantly greater obstacles. With recent history as our guide, let’s just hope that June represents a quick change in fortune for the Phils and the expected second half fall-offs for rest of the NL East.