Analysis

Lumber Slumber

The Phillies lost the opening game of their series against the Mets, 9-1. There was basically nothing positive about this game, except Dave Herndon. It even included Brad Lidge serving up a home run to the very first batter he faced this season! Kyle Kendrick struggled, Danys Baez ruined a 1-2-3 inning by following up with a much rougher one, and no Philly batter recorded an extra-base hit as the hitters struck out eight times. What stands out, though, is the continued lack of offensive production from the frigid Philly bats.

There are few things more irritating than watching the Phillies’ offense go into extended offensive slumps. A lineup stacked with good hitters – Utley, Howard, Werth, et. al – goes into a prolonged period of futility every year, almost without fail. Whenever the struggles come, they almost always manifest in the form of a full-team slump. No one hitter rises above the mess to salvage these ugly stretches, so it seems. Compounded by tonight’s rather embarrassing loss to the Mets at the start of a homestand, the offense’s struggles seem to have the same symptoms of past seasons’ ills, only happening a couple of months sooner.

Granted, struggles often come with some poor pitching interspersed throughout. I’ll put those aside, as we focus solely on the offensive side of things. In the end, even through the doom-and-gloom, you’ll see the silver lining.

2008

The Stretch: 14 games, 16 days, from June 14 to June 29
The Record: 3-11
Standing in Division: 41-28, 4 games up before; 44-39, 1 game up after
Real Aces Faced: Jon Lester (7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 5 K, 1 BB)
New “Aces” Created: Eric Hurley (5.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 K, 2 BB), Kyle Lohse (8 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 3 K, 2 BB)
Total Runs Scored: 47  (3.4 per game)
Team Batting Line: .206/.291/.342

A tough interleague stretch that started immediately after the Phils dumped 20 runs on the Cardinals made the Phillies seem like anything but a legitimate World Series contender at the time. Ironically enough, this stretch also included a series against Oakland, where Joe Blanton would defeat Jamie Moyer three weeks before coming to the Phillies in a trade. In a six-game losing streak that included a sweep by the Angels, the Phils managed to score just 11 runs.

Lester entered his start against the Phillies with a poor ERA, but those numbers belied his true talent; the man is/was an ace and proved it. Hurley, meanwhile, hasn’t pitched in the Majors since that season.

2009

The Stretch: 18 games, 21 days, from June 12 to July 2
The Record: 4-14
Standing in Division: 41-28, 4 games up before; 44-39, 1 game up after
Real Aces Faced: Jair Jurrjens (7 IP, 1 H, 1 R [0 ER], 6 K, 4 BB)
New “Aces” Created: Scott Richmond (8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 11 K, 1 BB), Rich Hill (6.2  IP, 5 H, 2 R, 5 K, 4 BB), Jeremy Guthrie (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 4 K, 2 BB)
Total Runs Scored: 76  (4.2 per game)
Team Batting Line: .233/.308/.387

Oh, hey, interleague troubles again. While the hitting was a bit better here than the June swoon the Phils trudged through in ’07, their record sure wasn’t much better for it. Averaging better than four runs a game really isn’t all that slouchy, but that number is skewed by three 10-plus run-scoring outputs, which resulted in three of the four wins during this stretch. An awfully bizarre dichotomy, as the Phils only averaged 3.0 runs per game when they didn’t crack double digits.

Cole Hamels, meanwhile, in losing three straight starts at one point during this span, had a grand total of six runs of support in his four starts (not that he pitched all that well in that time), with one of those scored after he had left the game.

2010 (after Game 1 vs. NYM on 4/30)

The Stretch: 12 games, 14 days, from April 17 to 30
The Record: 4-8
Standing in Division: 8-3, 1.5 games up before; 12-11, 1.5 games back after
Real Aces Faced: Tim Lincecum (8.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 11 K, 1 BB), with Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson as honorable mentions
New “Aces” Created: Todd Wellemeyer (7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 4 K, 3 BB), Nate Robertson (6.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 K, 4 BB), Kris Benson (6 IP, 8 H, 3 R [2 ER], 5 K, 0 BB)
Total Runs Scored: 38  (3.2 per game)
Team Batting Line: .214/.282/.313

Record-wise, this one hasn’t been as bad so far, and that’s a good bit of luck for the Phils. They find themselves back just 1.5 games as April turns into May. What stands out here is the awful team slugging; repeating, the Phils did not manage an extra-base hit Friday, and they have just 27 in this 12-game slide.

There were wonderers-aloud about the Phils’ offense this year, mainly about how long they could sustain such a hot start against better competition. The injury to Jimmy Rollins sure hasn’t helped, but no one has really produced well in his absence. We can’t blame this on one player missing. Additionally, the Phils seem to even be drawing fewer walks than in slumps past. The mathematical difference between on-base percentage and batting average – isolated discipline or IsoD – is only .056 here, meaning just five-and-a-half percent of Philly plate appearances are resulting in walks. That’s the sort of walk rate you see out of a guy like Bengie Molina. For a team that bases a good chunk of its success on taking pitches – Werth and Utley, especially – having such poor plate discipline isn’t exactly fast-tracking this slump to its conclusion.

So, what’s bright side? Well, the Phils have managed to rebound. After their 2009 slump, they finished the year on a robust 54-32 run, hitting .260/.334/.449 the rest of the way. In 2008, the Phils went 48-31 with a  .255/.329/.438 combined line after the selected slump above. Is this cherry-picking? Of course it is. On both ends. But it’s certainly worth noting that this sort of thing is typical of the Phillies offense, for whatever reason. It’s also worth noting that the team turned out just fine on the other side of the other two slumps.

With the talent of the hitters in the starting lineup, it’s hard to imagine this year’s slump lasting much longer. So, chin up. Things are slow right now, but the light at the end of this tunnel will start growing brighter any day now.

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