This isn’t a good team, even on paper.
The Colorado Rockies came into Citizens Bank Park this weekend a broken team away from Coors Field. With an 18-50 road record, the Rockies were supposed to provide the Phillies with the cannon fodder they needed to blast themselves up the NL East and wild card races, either by either sweeping or at least taking three of four from the woebegone Rocks.
Four days later, Colorado leaves town having won three of four, humiliating a Phils team that has all but thrown away their playoff chances in 2021 as a result.
Hey, at least they made the Rockies feel better about themselves. It’s always good to help others feel good about themselves.
Perhaps too much was expected of a Phillies team that has been crumbling in front of our eyes for a while now. As new closer Ian Kennedy, the guy Dave Dombrowski brought to the Phillies at the trade deadline, gave up a crushing go-ahead, 0-2, two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the 9th in an eventual 4-3, series-opening loss, it dawned on me.
The sum of the Phils just aren’t very good.
Look, it’s time to accept the crumbling Phillies for what they are. They are pitching a bullpen game every 5th day. They have no closer. They have one great hitter and one or two good hitters. This isn’t a playoff team.
— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) September 11, 2021
While the Phillies do possess the 5th highest payroll in baseball, they don’t have enough good players to be considered a viable playoff team, a reality reflected in recent series losses to Colorado and Arizona.
Bryce Harper is crushing the ball and could well be having the best season he will ever have in a Phillies uniform. His 5.7 fWAR is already the 2nd-highest total of his career (he’ll never match the 9.3 he put up in his 2015 MVP season) and he leads the team in virtually every offensive category. He has tried to carry the team in the second half of the season, but he cannot do it alone and, unfortunately, he’s had to.
The loss of Rhys Hoskins undoubtedly hurt, but there should be enough pieces in place so that it does not crush the entire team. Unfortunately, the rest of the team’s stars haven’t done enough to carry the offense, especially over the last month.
J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius were re-signed this season to provide thunder in the middle of the lineup, but both bats have been soft as kittens. Realmuto’s wRC+ of 110 shows he’s been an above average offensive player among catchers, but most catchers aren’t being counted on to be their team’s second-best hitter. The Phillies are, and he hasn’t done enough. Gregorius’ season has been a disaster from the start, with poor defense and a weak stick that has bookended a case of pseudo gout, for which he missed significant time earlier this year. He’s never gotten on track and he’s signed through next year.
Alec Bohm was supposed to be a major contributor in the middle of the lineup, but after scuffling horribly on defense and not hitting for enough power to off-set those fielding issues, he was sent down to AAA and is now injured. Andrew McCutchen has had some hot power streaks, but has been extremely streaky, has struggled mightily against right-handed pitchers, and has overall been brutal over the last 30 days. Even Jean Segura, so hot for much of the season, has cooled.
Out of 15 NL teams the Phils are 7th in OPS, batting average, slugging percentage, home runs, and runs scored. They are 8th in on-base percentage, and wOBA.
They are the very definition of mediocre.
Behind an outstanding pitching staff, that offensive output would likely be enough to make them contenders, but Joe Girardi and Dombrowski don’t have five competent, capable starting pitchers with which to fill out their rotation. As a result, they’ve chosen to make every fifth day a bullpen game, which is fine if you’re loaded with elite relievers like the Dodgers and Rays, but less so when your 4.65 bullpen ERA and 4.61 FIP are 5th-highest in the National League and your home run rate is second-worst. The off-season signings of Vince Velasquez ($4 million), Chase Anderson ($4 million) and Matt Moore ($3 million), as well as the failure to develop Spencer Howard, helped put the team in their current quandary.
There are few options coming from the minor leagues to help, both in terms of pitching and with the bats. Joe Girardi has been quick to give up on some younger players and has ridden the likes of Ronald Torreyes, Travis Jankowski, Freddy Galvis and Brad Miller far too much for a team with playoff aspirations. The trio of Miller, Torreyes and Jankowski have accumulated a staggering 782 PAs this year with a cumulative .239 batting average. On the pitching side, Enyel De Los Santos (6.75 ERA in 28 innings) and Bailey Falter (5.86 ERA in 27.2 IP) have struggled in the bullpen, and there are no starting pitchers in AAA who can come to the Majors, even for four starts this month.
They’re in shockingly bad shape.
Everyone in the organization deserves blame and it can be divvyed up in a number of different ways. Owner John Middleton’s decision to hire Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak five years ago was a disaster. Neither was able to synthesize the new analytics department with the scouting department or on-field staff, the big league coaches haven’t been able to develop young talent, managers Gabe Kapler and Joe Girardi have pushed all the wrong buttons in all different ways over the last four years and, yes, the players themselves are to blame for yet another late-season string of failures, too.
Zack Wheeler is worthy of Cy Young consideration, even though he likely won’t win, but after him, the rest of the rotation has underperformed. Zach Eflin had a 4.17 ERA in 18 starts before he was lost for the season with yet another knee problem. Aaron Nola’s disastrous campaign keeps getting worse, with a 4.58 ERA in 29 starts. After a strong start, Gibson has a 4.60 ERA in 7 starts for the Phils. Only Ranger Suarez has been a pleasant surprise, with a sparkling 1.38 ERA in eight starts and 35 games (78 innings).
And yet, the Phillies have the 5th-highest payroll in baseball. Their failure to develop young talent as well as an unwillingness to make up for those failures by going over the luxury tax has left the team with one great player, a couple pretty good players, one great starter, one decent young starter, and a slew of question marks with no real answers everywhere else.
Whatever Dave Dombrowski decides to do this off-season, a realist’s take on the 2021 Phillies is that they simply don’t enough good players to be a playoff team, a damning reality when it will likely only take 90 wins to win the NL East and coming off a ‘20 season in which half of MLB made the postseason.
On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I took the Phillies to task for their performance this weekend and conducted our own snake draft of who’s to blame for what’s gong on this season.