The Philadelphia Phillies lost again last night, dropping the first of a three-game series with the Minnesota Twins by an 11-7 score. The Twins – dead-last in the American League with a .417 winning percentage – scored five runs in the first two innings, rolling to double-digit for the season, the most runs the Phillies have let up in a nine-inning contest all season.
The Phillies have now lost nine of their last 10 games and are a staggering 9.5 games back of first place in the NL East, trailing the Washington Nationals for first place and everyone else by at least 3.5 games. The Phillies haven’t been this far out of first place since the end of the 2006 season, back when Cole Hamels was a rookie and the Phillies hadn’t made the playoffs in 13 years.
The Phillies – without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley – have struggled to score runs as they normally would – but the recent problems have been more than just Howard and Utley. It’s been the inability to do the simple things, like converting with men on third base and fewer than two outs. The Phillies are on pace to become the first team since 1948 to post a success rate of as low as 48.2 percent in such a situation.
Injuries to players like Freddy Galvis and Placido Polanco have forced stiff-handed fielders Mike Fontenot and Ty Wigginton to play second and third base regularly, and the pair seems to be competing to see who can make the most errors. Jimmy Rollins is playing like he’s pushing 40 years old and Shane Victorino seems to have no desire for a new contract next season. Meanwhile, the injury to Roy Halladay has been devastating, but worse than that, it’s been the shockingly awful pitching by Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick recently, the blown leads Hamels has let up, as well as the mathematically impossible winless Cliff Lee, despite a 3.18 ERA and a phenomenal 5.69 strikeout to walk ratio.
The team is paying $50 million to Jonathan Papelbon, but in a close situation against the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, Charlie Manuel opted to use Triple-A call-up B.J. Rosenberg – making his first major league appearance – in a tie game on the road in the 11th inning. Likewise, he’s given Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, and Michael Schwimer their fair share of pitching appearances, which isn’t necessarily his fault considering mainstays Michael Stutes and Jose Contreras are injured, and Chad Qualls has been downright awful after signing a one-year deal to hopefully be the setup man.
The Phillies are just four years removed from their World Series championship, three removed from their last World Series appearance, and coming off of five straight NL East titles. Has their window closed?
The astoundingly successful season from the Nationals has a big factor on the Phillies’ awful season, as the Nationals sport a ridiculously successful 1-2 pitching combination in Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, a future perennial MVP in Bryce Harper, and a fine bullpen. The Atlanta Braves’ young pitching staff has struggled but the team is still in the hunt for the division title, led by Brandon Beachy, Michael Bourn, and the ageless Chipper Jones, plus an unhittable closer in Craig Kimbrel.
The New York Mets won’t continue their success, although they’ve enjoyed remarkable seasons from David Wright and Johan Santana so far. But the Miami Marlins will be a threat, as they have a future 500-home run hitter in Giancarlo Stanton and a pretty underrated pitching staff.
The Phillies will have their hands full to make the playoffs. The team won 102 games just last season. To win even 90 this year, the Phillies would have to go 61-38 from here on out. To win last year’s total of 102, they would have to go 73-26, a ridiculous .737 winning percentage.
Neither are likely, especially if the Phillies continue to exhibit the same signs they’ve been showing recently – shoddy pitching, awful bullpen play, subpar hitting with men on base, and untimely luck with injuries.
The good news is that Howard and Utley and Halladay and Galvis will return eventually. Manuel will feel a lot more at ease being able to pencil Howard into the cleanup spot every day, and Utley at third, which means Pence can probably hit fifth to take pressure off him. Halladay should return to normal as one of the game’s premier starters, Lee will start winning games simply because he can’t continue to lose the way he’s been pitching, and the Phillies will start winning games again.
But sooner would be better than later or the Phillies will be on the outside looking in come October.