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July 04, 2017

Holiday loss to Pirates puts Phillies' most glaring hole on display

The summer shower that rolled through South Philly at dinner time on Independence Day delayed the game between baseball’s two clubs from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by just 22 minutes.

When the action returned and concluded in a neat, three hours and one minute, it ended like many of the 81 games before it: the Phillies lost.

Despite showing some signs of life in the last week, thanks to a profanity-filled, honest team assessment from the longest-tenured player in the clubhouse, Freddy Galvis, the Phils were back looking like the team with baseball’s worst record and one that gives anyone in the Delaware Valley little incentive in dropping down money to see this summer. (I arrived a little late to the park on the holiday – is parking really that expensive all the time?)

The Phillies' 3-0 defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday afternoon produced so few highlights from the home team that the loudest ovation from the 24,087 folks that did come through the turnstiles for the late afternoon start was when a couple of elderly couples locked lips during an in-between innings Kiss Cam.

So, yeah, not a whole lot of incentive for coming out to the ballpark on an otherwise beautiful holiday afternoon (despite the 22-minute rain delay).

The lowlights were aplenty, on all on the offensive side from Pete Mackanin’s punchless club, a club that has scored two runs or fewer in 21 of their last 42 games.

Tuesday's game began with the Phillies stranding runners in scoring position in five consecutive innings. In three of those innings – the first, third, and fifth – cleanup hitter Maikel Franco was up in premier RBI-opportunity spots and each time he failed. A ground ball to third, a fly out to center, and a weakly-hit pop up to first.

The Phillies stranded 12 runners in total over nine innings, including eight runners in scoring position.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Phillies entered Tuesday hitting .241 with a .690 OPS with runners in scoring position this season and almost 100 more strikeouts (158) than walks (65) in such situations. If you think that’s bad look at their numbers with a runner on third base and less than two outs heading into the holiday: .217, .248 OBP, .597 OPS.

The latter situation didn’t get any better on Tuesday when the Phils had that very scenario come up in the first, fourth, and seventh innings. Not only did they fail to convert in any of those innings (obviously, since they were shut out) but they also struck out three times and failed to hit the ball out of the infield in six total plate appearances.

What this all screamed for, of course, was the Phillies’ biggest problem as they’ve reached the halfway point of the third season of their rebuild: they don’t have a middle-of-the-lineup pillar to build around. They don’t have a consistent, unflappable bat Mackanin can plop into the heart of his batting order and feel confident with on a nightly basis.

“Without question,” Mackanin said of whether Tuesday afternoon’s loss perfectly illustrated that fact. “That’s what we're looking for, consistency in the middle of the lineup. That's been one of our biggest issues. We have guys that have potential and have shown they're capable of driving runs in but we need it more often.”

Coincidentally the Pittsburgh Pirates, for all of their faults as a team that was supposed to contend but instead entered Tuesday one loss from being 10 games under .500, have that very player and he was pretty much the difference in the second game of the four-game series between the two teams this week in South Philly.

Andrew McCutchen hit 803-feet of home runs in consecutive at-bats off Mark Leiter Jr. and Ricardo Pinto. His two swings only took the Pirates’ lead from 1-0 to 3-0, but with the way the Phils’ offense was going, they were bigger psychological gut punches, reminding them of their own opportunities lost.

The Phillies have some talented bats on the farm – Lehigh Valley infielders Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery will represent the organization at the MLB Futures Game in Miami this Sunday – but you can’t count on a couple of kid prospects to be saviors, either. Before long – and for fans’ sake, hopefully before the much-hyped free agent class of 2018-19 – the Phillies’ front office is going to have to inquire about adding a proven middle of the order bat or two.

Because the big league tryout that’s been held in the last two years hasn’t produced much to be hopeful or confident about, and the Michael Saunders and Howie Kendricks of the world haven’t helped a whole lot, either.

(And those ESPN Stats & Info nuggets were from before Tuesday's game)

The M.A.S.H Report

And now a quick rundown of a trio of pitchers and their respective progress from injuries:

Jerad Eickhoff’s minor league rehab start with Double-A Reading was a success: he struck out five, walked one, and held the Trenton Thunder to one run on two hits (including a solo home run) on Tuesday night. Eickhoff, placed on the disabled list with an upper back strain on June 20, is scheduled to start for the Phillies on Sunday against San Diego.

• If you’re wondering why 2016 second-round pick Kevin Gowdy has yet to show up in a boxscore in 2017, here’s your answer: he had been battling biceps tendinitis in extended spring training and still has a “ways to go” this season, according to a Phillies' evaluator. The Phils still plan to get the 19-year-old Gowdy going before the end of the minor league season in order to get him some innings during what was supposed to be his first full season in pro ball.

 Rising right-handed prospect Seranthony Dominguez is closer to getting back on the mound for Class A Clearwater. The 22-year-old Dominguez was shut down in mid-May with shoulder soreness. An MRI on Dominguez’s ailing arm came back clean but the Phillies were still cautious with the pitcher, who was arguably pitching better than anyone in the system at the time of his injury.

Dominguez is likely to be back on the mound for the Threshers before the end of July. He was 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA in seven games (six starts), with 45 strikeouts and 13 walks in 35 2/3 innings, holding Florida State League hitters to a .187 batting average and a .268 OBP.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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