The Philadelphia Phillies are notoriously slow starters, but they’ve taken 2012 to a whole new level not seen in previous years. This year’s club is just 10-12, stuck at fourth place in the NL East, a full four games behind the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, who are tied for first place.
The Phillies are 27th in the league in runs scored, 27th in on-base percentage, and 25th in slugging percentage. They’ve scored two runs or fewer in 12 of their 22 games so far.
Last year’s Phillies were in a similar situation – Chase Utley was dealing with a bout of patellar tendinitis that sidelined him for the first two months of the season. In return, the Phillies got far subpar performances from Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez, and Pete Orr.
This year’s team is also without Ryan Howard, but Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix are actually filling in remarkably in his absence. Wigginton is hitting .309/.371/.473 with a .844 OPS, and Nix is at .296/.387/.556 with a .943 OPS. John Mayberry, Jr. is struggling like never before, but he’s started just three games at first base, and most of his innings are coming in left field.
As a team, the Phillies are getting a .270/.351/.430 statline with three home runs and 14 RBIs from their first basemen. Last year, Howard in April batted .290/.351/.560 with six home runs and 27 RBIs in April. Obviously the power difference is huge, but Howard wouldn’t have nearly as many RBIs this season with guys like Orr and Placido Polanco hitting in the two spot; last year, his early RBI total was inflated by Polanco’s outrageously productive April.
Getting Howard back will be a significant boost for the Phillies, as it will allow Nix and Juan Pierre to play most of left field (and Mayberry to take a seat on the bench full-time). And missing Utley is monumental for the Phillies – Freddy Galvis is a fine defensive player, but he is hitting just .194/.229/.299, and Utley can put up a .750 or .800 OPS in his sleep.
The real problem is the players on the team that were producing last year but aren’t producing this year. Polanco is hitting .239/.292/.269 in 71 plate appearances. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t parlayed his new contract into production at the plate, as he is hitting just .222/.264/.259 with no home runs in 86 plate appearances. Hunter Pence is batting just .253 with a .298 on-base percentage and an awful .398 slugging percentage. Even Shane Victorino – who is leading the team with four home runs – is batting just .230 with a .280 on-base percentage. And let’s not forget Jim Thome, who is a heck of a nice guy, but probably done as a major league hitter – he is slugging .111 in 18 at-bats with 10 strikeouts.
As a team, the Phillies have a .288 on-base percentage. They’re managing to hold their opponents to a .291 mark because of their otherworldly pitching staff, but that puts an incredible amount of stress on the pitchers. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels are as good as a 1-2-3 as the game has ever seen, but they have to know going into every game that if they give up one run – or God forbid, two – they are probably getting the loss.
Victorino and Pence will probably get back on track, as will Rollins (although he’s nowhere near the player that won the league MVP just five years ago). But Mayberry better start hitting and the Phillies better get Utley and Howard back, and the pitching staff better keep producing, and the Nationals better start losing, and the Phillies better have another fine second half of the season. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a good chance the five straight NL East titles never turn into six.