Get this: The Phillies allowed five home runs on 0-2 counts in the series against Colorado. They’ve given up 16 home runs on 0-2 counts this season, which is tied for the most in MLB this season.
It’s relatively safe to say that the mistakes made on 0-2 last weekend have cost the Phillies their last chance at a realistic playoff push. Ian Kennedy’s 0-2 home run on a hanging curveball with two outs in the ninth cost the Phils a victory on Thursday. Aaron Nola and Héctor Neris both surrendered 0-2 home runs to Garrett Hampson, which accounted for all five runs the Rockies would score on Sunday.
The Phillies pitching staff has had trouble putting away hitters all season. When catcher J.T. Realmuto was made available to the media following Sunday’s game, he was asked about it.
“We’re not executing our pitches when it comes to 0-2 counts,” Realmuto said. “I think we have the least amount of wasted pitches 0-2, which means we’re throwing more pitches in the strike zone on 0-2 than anyone in baseball.”
The Phillies are second only to the Dodgers in 0-2 pitches inside the strike zone (548). The Phillies also lead all of MLB in called strike threes (362) and are fifth in swing-and-misses on two-strike pitches inside the zone (435). Nola, Zack Wheeler, Kyle Gibson and Ranger Suárez are all strike throwers who benefit from Realmuto’s advanced receiving skills.
“With today’s hitters, there’s a lot of chase in the game,” Realmuto said. “You don’t always want guys chasing the strikeout for two or three pitches in a row, but 0-2 is a good time to do it. I think our guys have the right intent.
“Obviously, they are not trying to throw the ball in the middle of the plate in an 0-2 count, but we’re just not doing a very good job executing in those counts. We’re going to have to work on it because you’re not going to get through lineups with the way everybody hits for power nowadays.”
The Phillies have surrendered 467 hits with two-strikes in 2021, the seventh most in baseball. Twenty-two of those came during the Rockies series. They have surrendered double digit hits with two strikes in three of its last five series.
Realmuto added: “It’s more about location than the pitch necessarily. Just about every hitter in baseball chases a fastball and a breaking ball. There’s a certain location you can go to and get the chase — so it’s not necessarily pitch selection — it’s where we are throwing it and being able to execute the location that we’re looking for, specifically with fastballs.”
Is the pitch caller exonerated from blame? It would be easier to pin the issue solely on Realmuto if his pitchers were hitting their spots and still giving up a high volume of hits on two-strike pitches. It ultimately doesn’t matter where Realmuto places his glove if pitchers are catching the middle of the plate with two strikes.
Then again, the Phillies are throwing an awful lot of fastballs in 0-2 counts in recent years. They are capable of missing bats with fastballs, but hitters love nothing more than a fastball right down the middle when they are down two strikes. Since Phillies pitchers are also prone to making a ton of mistakes over the plate, it’s no wonder opposing hitters do well when they’re behind in the count.
Maybe Realmuto doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the staff’s secondary offerings.
The Phillies pitching staff — specifically the bullpen — could use a deceptive makeover in the offseason. Only six teams in MLB have a higher strike rate than the Phillies, but when it comes to getting hitters to chase, the staff ranks near the bottom of the league. The Phillies are 26th in swing-and-misses outside of the strike zone in all counts.
|Player||Pitch Type||Whiffs outside the zone and (Pitch %)|
|Héctor Neris||Splitter||52 (5%)|
|José Alvarado||Cutter||37 (4%)|
|Enyel De Los Santos||Four-Seam Fastball||17 (3.1%)|
|Aaron Nola||Knuckle Curve||78 (2.9%)|
|José Alvarado||Sinker||27 (2.9%)|
|Ranger Suárez||Changeup||35 (2.9%)|
|Aaron Nola||Changeup||68 (2.5%)|
|Connor Brogdon||Changeup||20 (2.3%)|
|Spencer Howard||Four-Seam Fastball||11 (2.1%)|
|Zack Wheeler||Slider||62 (2.1%)|
No matter what the cause of the issue is, the Phillies’ struggles with two strikes are adding up. The staff’s 3.27 ERA with two strikes ranks 23rd in MLB. The Brewers and Dodgers all have ERAs under two with two strikes.
Phillies fans and manager Joe Girardi can all agree on one thing: The Rockies series stunk.
“There’s no other way to describe it,” Girardi said on Sunday.
The upcoming series against the Cubs could the last nail in the coffin for the 2021 Phillies. If they want to save their season, the first thing the pitching staff can do is stop throwing the ball over the middle of the plate in two-strike counts.
That will help a lot.
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