That was painful. Seeing Edwin Díaz strike out Harper, Castellanos, and Realmuto to complete a combined no-hitter was a difficult pill to swallow for all Phillies fans. Years of trolling the Mets only to have them no-hit the Phillies using 5 pitchers and yielding six walks. The Phillies’ pitching and the offense cannot get in sync. There are significant strengths to this team that could lead to their first postseason appearance in over ten years, but there are also significant weaknesses that could derail the season. Is it time to panic?
The Phillies are an above-average offense when looking at the stats. At the time of this writing, they are top ten in team batting average, slash line, team runs per game and hits. Castellanos is batting .300 with a .374 OBP and OPS+ of 153. Kyle Schwarber has a .169 batting average but leads the team with seven home runs and 16 RBIs. He is tied with Rhys Hoskins for the team lead on walks with 12. Alec Bohm has started to look like his 2020 self with a .308 average, OPS+ of 143, and 14 RBIs. Defensively, there still are some problems with Bohm, but he is getting on base. Last season it looked like he was trying to hit home runs rather than do what he did so well in 2020 by hitting for average. Bohm’s resurgence is such a huge boost after his struggles last season. Meanwhile, Harper has benefitted from the DH in the NL. His average is down but he still leads the team in doubles and has 15 RBIs. On paper, this offense looks like it could make a run at the division.
Before jumping into the negatives, I have to talk about pitching. After three rough starts for Zack Wheeler, he exited last Thursday’s game giving up one hit over 6 innings pitched and seven strikeouts. He finally looked back to normal after missing much of spring training with an injury. Nola is still struggling with giving up home runs, but he is limiting walks and has played well in his last two starts. If he can keep the home runs down and trust his pitches, he can return to his 2018 self. Zach Eflin has had ups and downs so far, but he is still a solid 4th starter. Kyle Gibson has risen to become a solid pitcher in the Phillies rotation. After struggling last year in a Phillies uniform, this season he has a 2.93 ERA. He has a WHIP at 1.08 while increasing his strikeouts and decreasing his walks which I outlined as a problem for him when the Phillies traded for him. Right now he has a career-high ERA+ of 132. Ranger Suarez is struggling a bit to start the season but visa issues delayed his Spring Training arrival. Even then, his last three starts saw him give up 2, 1, and 3 earned runs respectively which is solid from a 5th rotation guy.
If Wheeler, Nola, Eflin, Gibson, and Suarez all sync up, they could easily rival the Phillies’ 2011 rotation of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, and Blanton at a fraction of the cost.
Finally, the bullpen needs to be talked about. Corey Knebel has so far lived up to the hype as the new closer. He is perfect for saves and has an ERA of 1.13 while Brad Hand has a 2.08 ERA. Andrew Bellatti has, so far, been a solid free-agent pickup. He has a 1.80 ERA and opponents are batting .167 against him. The Phillies bullpen has blown one save so far this season. Seranthony Domínguez is finally back from Tommy John surgery after a nearly three-year absence. His ERA is in the threes, but Joe Girardi is limiting his inning count until he gets back into a groove. He is a valuable bullpen asset as his WHIP sits below 1.0 and his ERA+ is 114. Despite other bullpen problems, these guys have been a bright spot.
This defense is just as bad as everyone expected. The Phillies are a team of DHs which means the defense remains average at best. Their DRS currently sits at -4 for 25th in the league. Catcher, second base, and left field have a positive DRS. Schwarber has a positive DRS at 1. Realmuto is back to a positive DRS for the first time since his stellar 2019 season. He leads the league in innings caught and second in caught stealing. The Phillies’ worst position in DRS is right field at -4. Harper with his elbow injury has had him DH, so Castellanos has been in RF. Castellanos has a -3 DRS. The defense was not expected to be elite but the defense has been costly at times as outlined below.
The Phillies would go on to lose that game brutally. Didi Gregorius’s defense continues to decline as he sits at a -3 DRS. His counterpart Johan Camargo has a 1 DRS. The Phillies are average for team errors per game at 0.50 which is not a huge improvement from last season’s 0.58. The defense has a .985 fielding percentage which is 16th in the league. There have been improvements from last year’s defense, but it is still pretty bad.
The Phillies offense is 5th in home runs hit and tied for third in RBIs. So why aren’t the Phillies in the divisional running? This offense either scores a ton of runs or few at all. The offense was shut out three times in April. They’ve scored 4 or more runs 13 times, but their record sits below .500. The Phillies are 1-3 in one-run games. This team has lost 7 times when scoring 3 or more runs. Pitching has been inconsistent by giving up too many runs when the offense provides run support. But when the pitching is solid, the offense does not offer run support. Nola pitched a 7 inning no run gem against Milwaukee, but he got no run support. He has given up 3 runs or less in each of his last 4 starts and the run support has not been there. Meanwhile, the Phillies offense provided the pitching six runs in their final game of the recent Mets series and the pitching blew it. This team is having trouble syncing up run support and consistent pitching.
Joe Girardi is on the hot seat. The Phillies have yet to reach the postseason under his managerial tenure. Granted he hasn’t had many weapons to work with before this season. But this year he has new bullpen pitchers, has a fairly strong rotation, and offensive weapons. Ken Rosenthal from the Athletic said this about Girardi:
The Phillies have yet to exercise Girardi’s option for 2023, a clear signal they are expecting results. Not that Girardi needed a reminder. The Phillies’ $229.2 million Opening Day payroll was the highest in club history by more than $30 million. The team is hell-bent on making the postseason for the first time since 2011.Ken Rosenthal, MLB managers under scrutiny — The names whose contracts add pressure to this season under https://theathletic.com/3264941/2022/04/22/mlb-managers-under-scrutiny/
I see this as Girardi’s last season in Philly if they miss the postseason again. He has had some questionable decisions regarding the lineup. Johan Camargo batted well to start the season and has been a good defender at shortstop. He has a 1 DRS at shortstop while Didi has a -3. Girardi needs to let Camargo play shortstop rather than Didi. Didi just isn’t the same at the plate and defensively. Keeping Didi in the lineup means Camargo plays third rather than Bohm. Bohm needs to play every day because he has a hot bat.
Girardi also keeps adjusting the lineup. Here’s Rosenthal again:
Girardi is managing with particular urgency, dropping Kyle Schwarber from the leadoff to fifth spot and hitting J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper 1-2 in the 10th game of the season. That configuration, however, lasted only two games. Jean Segura and Rhys Hoskins batted 1-2 in the next two, with Harper third, Nick Castellanos fourth, Realmuto fifth and Schwarber sixth.Ken Rosenthal, MLB managers under scrutiny — The names whose contracts add pressure to this season under https://theathletic.com/3264941/2022/04/22/mlb-managers-under-scrutiny/
Girardi changing the lineup so frequently does not allow guys to be comfortable in the lineup. Schwarber was signed on as a leadoff bat but now he’s batting sixth. This team needs an identity and always changing the lineup prevents that. Girardi also needs to let Odubel Herrera play every day in CF. Matt Vierling has been atrocious at the plate this season and Herrera has a hot bat. Vierling, like Bryson Stott, needs more minor league time. With Mickey Moniak returning soon, I expect Vierling to be sent down to Lehigh Valley.
So, is it time to panic? Not yet. Wheeler finally looks to be back on track. Nola has shown glimpses of his old self. Gibson has stepped up and is pitching well. There are some good bullpen pieces. Bohm looks great at the plate while Castellanos hits for average and Schwarber hits home runs. Schwarber even hit two home runs off Max Scherzer on Sunday night. There are obvious problems with the defense, the offense and pitching struggle to sync up, and some questionable decisions regarding lineups. But, the season is still young. Phillies fans can panic if the team is still having these problems by the All-Star Break.