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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

From bad to worst

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 27

Fisher column logo2Are the Phillies really this bad?

With the exception of delusional optimists peering through rose-colored glasses, nobody expected the Phillies to challenge for a playoff berth. But it wasn’t considered unrealistic to suggest they could approach a .500 record.

Instead, they have the worst record (16-30) in Major League Baseball. They have won five games in May. They have lost 21 of their last 26 games. They have lost eight straight series.

Are they really that bad?

It’s difficult to argue that the Phillies aren’t the worst team in baseball when they have the worst record. The Phillies certainly have been the worst team in baseball during May.

But this season wasn’t supposed to be about wins and losses. This season was supposed to be about progress. Have the Phillies progressed? If not, have they regressed?

General manager Matt Klentak said earlier this week that he’s not ready to say the Phillies have regressed. OK. Let me say it for him. The Phillies have regressed.

Let’s look at last year’s standings. The Phillies finished 71-91. The Diamonbacks (69 wins), Braves (68), Padres (68) and Reds (68) all finished with fewer wins than the Phillies. The Brewers (73), Rockies (75) and Marlins (79) were the teams with losing records ahead of the Phillies.

The Phillies have closed the gap on the Marlins (17-29), but that’s because the Marlins have been worse rather than the Phillies getting better. The Rockies (32-18) have the best record in the National League, one game ahead of the Diamondbacks (31-19) in the National League West Division. The Brewers (25-23) are in second place in the NL Central. Compared to the Rockies, Brewers and Diamondbacks, the Phillies have clearly regressed.

The Padres are still bad (18-32), but they’re ahead of the Phillies. The Reds (23-24) and Braves (21-25) have also improved. In short, since the end of last season, the Phillies have lost ground to every team with a comparable record except the Marlins. That certainly looks like regression.

Let’s compare the Phillies to themselves. They were 25-21 after 46 games last season. This season they are 16-30. That certainly looks like regression.

Once again, it should be stressed that this season shouldn’t be measured solely by wins and losses. Progress and improvement should be the measuring stick.

The poster boy for the Phillies’ regression is Odubel Herrera. One year ago people were comparing his statistics to Mickey Mantle. (I looked this up today to make sure my memory wasn’t faulty.) This was, of course, a ridiculous comparison, but Herrera was having a sensational first few months, which earned him a spot on the National League All-Star team. He was rewarded during the offseason with a five-year contract worth a reported $30.5 million, with club options for the following two seasons.

Herrera’s first two months must have the Phillies regretting signing him to the long-term contract. He is batting .227, with a horrid .275 on-base percentage. He bottomed out, hopefully, Thursday against the Rockies, striking out in all five at-bats. After being more selective at the plate last season, Herrera has walked 11 times and struck out a team-high 49 times this season. To make matters worse, Herrera has had several instances in which has failed to run hard – or run at all, as was the case last Sunday during a 1-0 loss to the Pirates.

If this season is about learning which players could be pieces of the foundation for the Phillies’ future, the answers haven’t been encouraging. Herrera has been far from the only disappointment. Maikel Franco is batting .215 with a .272 on-base percentage. He was benched for two games this past week. Freddy Galvis’ on-base percentage (.286) is barely better than last year’s atrocious .275 on-base percentage. Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are posting similar offensive numbers to last season, although Rupp’s pitch-calling was recently questioned by pitching coach Bob McClure, and he made an unnecessary throwing error this past week trying to catch a runner straying too far from second base.

The only position player who has improved since last season is Aaron Altherr, who is batting .296, leads the team in home runs (eight), shares the lead in doubles (12) and is second on the team in RBI (26). Altherr is one of the few rays of light in a dark and gloomy season.

How are those young pitchers doing? Jerad Eickhoff (0-5, 4.70 ERA) and Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) have run into some tough luck during games in which they’ve pitched well, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are both winless as we enter the final days of May. The jury is also still out on Aaron Nola (2-2, 4.34) and Vince Velasquez (2-4, 5.55), although the verdict appears increasingly clearer about Velasquez, who shows no signs of ending his propensity for throwing far too many pitches. If these pitchers are supposed to be the foundation of the future rotation, that foundation is being built on unstable ground.

As for the bullpen, Phillies relievers have only converted 6 of 15 save opportunities. That’s a nearly unfathomable failure rate. Hector Neris is 4 of 5 on save opportunities. Everyone else is 1 for 10.

Regardless of which measuring stick you use, the Phillies have regressed this season. Their record is worse than last year. They’ve lost ground to other teams. And, perhaps most importantly, the players they had hoped would be part of their foundation for the future have stagnated or regressed.

Are the Phillies this bad? Maybe.

Is the situation as bad as it appears for the Phillies? Absolutely

In fact, the situation may be worse than it appears.

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