The Phillies began the season with a fast 5-1 start. They swept the 2020 division winner, the Braves, and took two out of three games from the Mets. Phillies fans were hopeful again. The retooled bullpen looked solid in comparison to last season’s abysmal bunch. The bullpen was handed leads and holding them. There was a spark in the offense. The top half of the rotation showed incredible dominance. Then the Phillies went on a road trip that left them at 6-6 by the time they returned for their homestand. The Phillies now sit at .500 and second in the NL East. This season has been a roller coaster for the Phillies and it is just getting started.
It is always nice to start off with a positive, right? There has been some good with the Phillies this season. Bryce Harper has posted a solid slash line of .319/.449/.625, while his OPS is 1.074. He has also hit six home runs despite having a few taken away from him because of strong winds. Harper is having a solid year so far. He is getting on base and scoring runs. He is behind the Phillies’ leader Rhys Hoskins for runs scored with 17. There is plenty for Phillies fans to be excited about when it comes to Harper this season. Rhys Hoskins is also having flashes of brilliance this season. His batting average and OBP are not anything to write home about as they are .261 and .293, respectively, but his slugging percentage is .614 which is second only to Harper on the team. Hoskins is leading the Phillies in home runs, RBIs, runs scored and doubles despite leading the team in strikeouts. When Hoskins is on a hot streak, he tears up the league. He can be a roller coaster at times, but he has also brought in some huge game-changing hits. J.T. Realmuto is also having a solid season so far. His slash line is .333/.436/.515 with an OPS of .951, all of which are exceptional stats. He is not hitting a lot of home runs, but he is getting on base. The contract the Phillies gave him in the offseason seems to be faring quite well so far. He is also tied for the second-most stolen bases on the entire team and who does not like a catcher being able to steal bases?
One final good note about the Phillies’ 2021 season so far is the solid, top-of-the-rotation pitching from Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin. Nola has an ERA of 2.84, Wheeler is at 3.13, while Eflin is at 2.77. All three of them have a WHIP below 1.12, which is below league average. Wheeler has struggled with walks but has also bounced back with strikeouts. Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin also have a combined 8 quality starts, which is when a pitcher pitches at least 6 innings while allowing 3 earned runs or fewer. There has been quality pitching from all three of these guys and it is definitely exciting to see. In summary, the Phillies have some solid offensive producers in the likes of Harper, Hoskins, and Realmuto while also having dominant pitching from Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin. However, there are other facts that explain the Phillies’ current situation as a .500 team.
Outside of Harper, Hoskins, and Realmuto, the Phillies’ offense is rather underwhelming. Didi Gregorius has not had the greatest season so far. His slash line is .257/.280/.357 with an OPS at .637, which are not exceptional numbers. However, the main issue with Gregorius has been his fielding. His fielding percentage is a .915 with five errors committed so far and -6 Outs Above Average. Another Phillies player who has really been struggling this season is Alec Bohm. His slash line is .205/.250/.308, and his OPS is .558. He is striking out way too much and is only second behind Hoskins for the team lead for strikeouts at 24. He is getting RBIs as he is only behind Hoskins again for the team lead. But, he is really showing his infancy regarding big-league pitching. He had a solid 2020 season but he was a rookie and pitchers did yet not know how to throw to him, and he only played in 44 games. Bohm is still young and can adjust to big-league pitching. The talent is definitely there. Right now, he looks really inexperienced and needs to make some adjustments.
The Phillies’ bullpen is certainly better this season in comparison to 2020 but it is still not great. Jose Alvarado has definitely been a surprise as his ERA is 1.59 and Hector Neris has an ERA of 1.86. Neris has already blown a save this season but his ERA is still pretty solid. Sam Coonrod has also pitched well. His ERA is 1.86 like Neris. The rest cannot be said for the Phillies’ bullpen. Archie Bradly is on the 10 Day IL. Connor Brogdon, Brandon Kintzler, and Jojo Romero both have an ERA over 7. Vince Velasquez is a thorn in the Phillies’ side. Phillies’ fans have been begging for his DFA or trade. He was a starting pitcher and continued to struggle so they put him in the bullpen. Problem is, he is not a good reliever either. He has an ERA over 6 and was awful in 2020. Velasquez plays better in left field than he does pitching. The Phillies need to finally move on from him. The bullpen definitely has some solid relievers in the likes of Alvarado, Neris, and Coonrod but the rest of the bullpen is underwhelming and just abysmal.
The Phillies have a massive center field problem. The center fielders are not producing and they have way too many of them. Their center field options include Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley, Mickey Moniak, Scott Kingery, and Odubel Herrera. According to Todd Zolecki, the Phillies went 16 days between their starting center fielders getting a hit!
Roman Quinn is batting .065, which is way below the “Mendoza Line.” Wheeler as a pitcher has more RBIs than Quinn, who has looked awful at the plate. Haseley is batting .190 and has also looked awful at the plate. Moniak made his major league debut this season in center field after being the number one pick in the 2016 draft. In 25 plate appearances, Moniak has struck out 12 times, which is nearly a 50% strikeout rate. He may need more time in the minors to work on his pitch recognition. Scott Kingery needs to stay in the minors to help work on his swing. This means that the Phillies’ last option for center field is indeed Odubel Herrera. Herrera was the starting center fielder for the Phillies for multiple seasons, but in 2019 he was suspended for most of the season under the MLB’s domestic abuse policy, and he did not play in 2020 either. He has since apologized for his actions. Morality aside, he is a veteran player who played a lot in center field. If Joe Girardi and Herrera’s teammates are comfortable with Herrera playing again, Phillies fans have to accept it. They can boo him all they want, but right now he is all the Phillies have left in that position.
One final ugly of this season so far is Andrew McCutchen. His slash line is .154/.300/.231, while his OPS .531. His OBP is high because he has walked a lot this season, enough that he is second behind Harper for the team lead in walks. His production has significantly declined. His age, and possibly his torn ACL from 2019 is leading to that lack of production. Cutch is loved by Phillies fans and has a positive presence on the field, in the dugout, and in the community. He has had an incredible career. But, the lack of production so far this season is quite detrimental to the team.
All in all, the Phillies are the epitome of a roller coaster team. They have highs and lows. They have some solid offensive producers, some dominant pitching, and some bright spots in the bullpen. Unless the bullpen and the rest of the offense starts to produce, the Phillies really are not looking at being dominant as a team, though. They may flutter at .500 for the rest of the season. But, baseball is a game of unpredictability and maybe the Phillies will surprise everyone. For now, the Phillies are stuck at playing .500 baseball.