Reviewing the Phillies 2 Months into the 2021 MLB Season
The Phillies are currently in the middle of a nine game road trip. They split a four game series with the Marlins, and are now in Tampa playing the Rays. Yesterday, the Phillies let up a 14 strike out performance from Zack Wheeler slip away in the eighth inning to lose to the Rays 5-3.
Through the first two months of the season, the Phillies are 25-27. They are tied for second in the National League with the Atlanta Braves and sit 3.5 games behind the first place New York Mets (25-20). In a year that has been highlighted by mediocrity, the Phillies find themselves log jammed in a crowded, underperforming NL East through the first two months of the season. Here are a few thoughts two months in:
Phillies Starting Pitching
Zack Wheeler is an All-Star. Yesterday, Wheeler became the first Phillies pitcher to have at least 10 strikeouts in three consecutive games since Curt Schilling in June 1998. He is the third Phillies pitcher in franchise history to accomplish the feat (Schilling, Carlton). The 14 strikeouts is a career high for Wheeler, and the most in a game by a Phillies pitcher since Vincent Velasquez struck out 16 against the Padres in April 2016.
Aaron Nola has been inconsistent, but still good. In seven starts since throwing a complete game shutout on April 18th, Aaron Nola has a 4.65 ERA. Although, his 1.8 WAR is tied for 10th among all MLB pitchers. Nola is off to a 3-4 start with a 3.72 ERA in 11 games. He has pitched a total of 65.1 innings and has struck out 76 with a 1.10 WHIP.
Zach Eflin is 2-4 with a 3.84 ERA in 10 games this season. He has 63 strikeouts in 63.1 innings with a 1.17 WHIP. Eflin has pitched past the sixth inning in every start this season and four or more runs in three of them. He will be on the mound for the Phillies today against the Rays.
Vincent Velasquez is 2-0 on the season with a 2.95 ERA in 10 games, six of which were starts for the Phillies. He’s thrown 36.2 innings and has struck out 45 batters with a 1.28 WHIP. Velasquez is confident and pitching some of the best baseball of his rollercoaster career. The Phillies desperately needed him to step up with Matt Moore and Chase Anderson both struggling and Velasquez has over delivered in doing so.
Spencer Howard have taken over the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation for now. The Phillies’ No. 1 prospect is still on an pitch limit and has struggled with his command and velocity anytime he’s pitched past the fourth inning. He is however, trending in the right direction. In last week’s 3-2 win against the Miami Marlins, there were a few encouraging signs.
Howard pitched deeper into the game than his first start before abruptly losing his command and a pinch of his velocity. Howard retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced and breezed through four scoreless innings before hitting a wall in the fifth. He threw 36 of his 51 pitches for strikes through four innings, striking out four and only walking one.
Ranger Suarez has been great for the Phillies and may be used to piggyback Howard in the fifth spot of the rotation. Suarez has been dominant. He has yet to allow a run over seven games and 12 innings pitched. He has struck out 11 batters and has a 0.67 WHIP on the season.
As a whole, the Phillies starters rank seventh in baseball with a 5.4 WAR. The rotation is better than the Mets (5.3), Marlins (4.0), Braves (2.2) and Nationals (1.6). The Phillies will have a hard time bringing in a quality rotation pitcher at the deadline given the fact that they have other holes to fill, so this might be the rotation until the end of the year.
Phillies Bench and Depth Issues
The Phillies pinch-hitters are 10th in the National League with a .603 OPS. They can specifically thank Brad Miller, who is 6-for-16 (.375) as a pinch hitter this season. Once you remove Miller for the equation, the Phillies fall to last place in the National League with a .152 batting average.
Depth has consistently been an issue for the Phillies. They have been plagued by injuries, with JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, and Didi Gregorius all missing significant time. There’s not much to get excited about in the minor leagues either.
Mickey Moniak is on the 40-man roster but struggled in the majors and is still struggling in. the minor leagues. Adam Haseley is back with the team after leaving early in the season for personal reasons, but isn’t ready to join the Phillies anytime soon. Scott Kingery, has been stuck in purgatory bouncing between the minors and majors which is terrible for him as he tries to fix his broken swing.
If the Phillies were to make any types of moves before the trade deadline, you would have to think that the main area of focus would be the lineup and adding some depth to the ball club.
The Phillies have only had JT Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Alec Bohm, Didi Gregorius, Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera, and Bryce Harper in the lineup together twice this season. The last time the presumed starting lineup played together was on May 9th. To say the very least, injuries have really hurt this team, on top of some bad management decisions that left Odubel Herrera out of the opening day roster.
The issue is the fact that this Phillies team was built to win on the back of its offense and that simply hasn’t happened through the first two months of the season.
Brad Miller has been great off the bench. He’s currently slashing .296/.361/.490 with a .851 OPS. He has 29 hits, five home runs, and 14 RBI in 98 at-bats for the Phillies this season.
Rhys Hoskins is slashing .266/.340/.500 with a .840 OPS. Hoskins has 11 home runs and 31 RBI to lead the Phillies while the majority of other starters have been injured.
Nick Maton has been a great surprise for the Phillies this season although has cooled down as of late and has been left out of the lineup in favor of Ronald Torreyes on multiple occasions. Still, Maton is slashing .268/.311/.392 with a .702 OPS.
The fact that I’m highlighting Miller, Hoskins, and Maton should paint a clear picture in the issues the Phillies are faced with thanks to injuries and depth.
Joe Girardi has made some questionable decisions as the manager of the Phillies. Last week, Girardi stated that he will no longer tell anybody if a player is unavailable because of an injury. Girardi believes that telling the media this information puts the Phillies at a competitive disadvantage. Everything from this point forward is now a “managers decision.”
You can take that as Girardi being dismissive or defensive. To be frank, I don’t really care what Girardi tells the media. That’s his decision as the manager of the Phillies ball club. However, it is frustrating watching a team with zero depth have injured players taking up roster spots only to be put on the injured list days later. This has happened with Didi Gregorius, JT Realmuto, and Bryce Harper.
Reasons to be Optimistic
Even with all of the issues surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies, the NL East in general is not very good. Every team has under performed and the Braves just lost Marcell Ozuna to a domestic violence charge. The Phillies have been playing like a .500 baseball team all season long. They have, however, dealt with so many key injuries throughout the first two months of the season.
If the Phillies can get healthy and string together a few wins, they have a shot at not only making the playoffs for the first time in a decade, but winning the NL East. But of course, I’m just giving you a reason to be optimistic. I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Mandatory Credit: Getty Images