The Philadelphia Phillies probably should be in a transition year. Gone are the days in which the Phillies ruled the roost in the National League East, appearing in back-to-back World Series and winning one. But some of those players still remain, and while one of those veterans is having an electric start to the season (Chase Utley, who is batting .458 with a couple homers and OPS of 1.369), others are struggling and need to pick up the pace.
With the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves being just about everyone’s pick to win the NL East this season, there wasn’t much consideration given to how the Phillies would do. But if Philadelphia is going to contend at least for one of the two NL Wild Card spots, players like Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz, along with newly acquired veteran Marlon Byrd, must improve on their current form.
Howard is probably the most recognizable Philadelphia hitter given his power, and he does have one homer so far in seven games, but has managed just three RBIs and a .233 batting average. Howard, however, has struck out in more than a third of his at-bats (11-of-30), putting him dangerously close to being more of a liability than an offensive threat if he is going to stay in the lineup all season. While Utley and others have the Phillies 10th in baseball in runs scored, Howard has been and is the leader and needs to produce in a big way for Philadelphia to even finish 81-81.
Ruiz gets a bit of a pass because of all the defensive work he has to do at catcher. You can forgive offensive struggles for a catcher if he is calling a good game behind the plate, throwing out runners, and/or doing other things to help the team win. Ruiz went 0-for-4 in Tuesday’s 10-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in Philadelphia’s home opener, and is hitting just .190 so far. That .190 average dips well below the line of acceptability, even for an everyday catcher who has so many other responsibilities.
Byrd has bounced around the National League in recent years, and while he has made some nice defensive plays in right field — especially in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Wrigley Field over the Chicago Cubs, he wasn’t brought to Philadelphia for his glove. Byrd was 1-for-5 on Tuesday and dropped to .233 for the season. But Byrd’s lone homer (he has two RBIs) marks his only extra-base hit of the season so far, despite being in the lineup as a starter for all seven games. Byrd is slugging a paltry .333, compared to his career slugging percentage of .425.
Philadelphia is perhaps lucky to be 3-4 at this point despite the struggles of these players. Utley and Domonic Brown (.375, .881 OPS) have picked up the slack for the offense. But if the Phillies are going to make anything out of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, they need Howard, Ruiz and Byrd to put forth much better offensive efforts than what have been so far. The trio combined is 18-for-81 (.222) this season, which just doesn’t cut it.