The Phillies offense has gotten off to a slow start.
They mustered three extra-base hits and four runs in three games against the New York Mets in Queens. Through 12 games, the bats are averaging just 3.5 runs per game. Their struggles would have likely continued on Thursday as they were set to face the best pitcher in baseball in Jacob deGrom. The weather forecast in the Big Apple sided with the Phillies this afternoon as rain postponed the game until June.
The sample size is small but the offense hasn’t been able to replicate the success they had in 2020. They ranked third in MLB in on-base percentage and 10th in slugging a season ago. So far the Phillies are 24th and 25th in the league in OBP and SLG respectively.
A lot of their struggles can be pointed to their inability to put the ball in play. It’ll happen, especially for a team that spends the first two weeks of the season facing two of the better pitching staffs in baseball. But last season, the Phillies were one of the least strikeout-prone teams in baseball. Now, the Phillies are striking out in nearly 29 percent of all of their at-bats. They have been called out on strikes at least ten times in eight of the first 12 games they’ve played.
Bryce Harper is just one of the many regulars whose strikeout totals are up. The numbers say he’s off to a slow start relative to his career norms. A .231/.388/.410 slash line with two home runs, 4 RBIs and a 118 wRC+ isn’t enough to mask the offense’s poor start. Harper is far from the team’s biggest issue, but he is part of the problem.
“On a personal level, I need to be better,” Harper said after Wednesday night’s game. “Punching out that many times in a game, as a team and as an individual, I can’t do that. I need to have better at-bats. I need to stop chasing out of the zone.”
J.T. Realmuto is the only regular in the lineup whose strikeout percentage is down from where it was a year ago. He’s been the team’s steadiest producer on offense so far this season.
“I think there’s one guy right now who is really doing his job and that’s J.T.,” Harper said. “Everybody else around him? Not so much.”
Perhaps the biggest underperformer so far is Andrew McCutchen. His .139 batting average ranks 117th out of 122 among players who have accumulated at least 43 plate appearances. His walk rate is where it should be (16.2 percent) but just over half of his batted balls have ended up on the ground.
After getting off to a hot start during the opening homestand, Rhys Hoskins has cooled off. He started the season 10-for-24 with four RBIs, but Hoskins has only two hits through the entire road trip. He walked for the first time this season on April 13. Through the first 10 games last season, Hoskins had 12 walks.
Even Alec Bohm is struggling in the early going, but there is hope that he can turn it around. His hard hit rate (38.7%) is up from last season and he’s laying off more pitches outside of the zone. Still, three extra-base hits in 12 games won’t work in the No. 5 spot for long, especially if Bohm is struggling to hit for average and get on-base.
The Phillies are not going to be a good team if only one of their 1-5 hitters is producing. It magnifies problems the team has in the bottom half of the order. Didi Gregroius’ strikeout rate more than doubling in the early going as well Phillies center fielders combining for a .346 OPS are problems the team can work around if the heart of the order is doing its job.
But all of this doesn’t mean much if the offense gets going against the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend, whose pitching staff is sitting at a 5.09 ERA. The good news is that the Phillies have 38 games combined against the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves on the 162-game schedule. Twelve of them have already been played and they sit at .500 despite playing poorly during the road trip.
It’s early but according to Harper, that means absolutely nothing.
“That’s one of my least favorite sayings in the world because it doesn’t matter if it’s early or it’s late,” Harper said. “You need to go out there with the preparedness and with the ability to play the game of baseball, and that starts on Opening Day, no matter what. We can’t get behind in this division, because if you get behind, then you’re not gonna be able to catch up.”
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