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May 30, 2023

What they're saying: Is it time for the Phillies to trade for a fifth starter?

Nothing about the fifth spot in the Phils' starting rotation has gone according to plan, so is it time to start looking outside for answers?

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Dylan-Covey-Phillies-Braves-5.28.23-MLB.jpg Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Covey didn't offer an answer to the Phillies' fifth-starter problem.

The Phillies arrived to the Memorial Day off day with a series split against the Braves, a three-game set at the Mets on-deck, and as a club still with a list of concerns as the calendar turns to June. 

The starting pitching will show flashes of brilliance but remains pretty unreliable on the whole, the bats will go off one night and cold the next, and even though there is still a lot of baseball left, now would really be the time for the Phils to get it together during a stretch of crucial NL East matchups. 

It might be a stressful week of baseball. Here's what they're saying about the Phils at start of it...

The fifth starter problem

Todd Zolecki |

Nothing about the fifth spot in the Phillies' starting rotation has gone according to plan. 

Top prospect Andrew Painter got hurt, Bailey Falter was struggling mightily before a minor-league demotion, Matt Strahm did admirably in the role for a bit but can only start so many times due to health concerns, and Dylan Covey...yeah...that one didn't go well

The fifth starter probably shouldn't be as big of a deal as it is right now – it's like worrying about who the No. 9 hitter is, Todd Zolecki wrote – but because Numbers 1-4 aren't exactly delivering consistent results themselves, the whole rotation is falling under heavier scrutiny. 

There are still a few internal options on the 40-man roster to consider – Nick Nelson, Cristopher Sánchez, and Michael Plassmeyer – but they aren't exactly promising, and other heralded farm arms Mick Abel and Griff McGarry aren't ready yet. 

So what about a possible trade? 

Said Phillies president Dave Dombrowski (via Zolecki):

“Exorbitant,” Dombrowski said about the asking price. “First of all, most clubs need starting pitching. So if you’re one of those clubs, you’re not going to trade until you get overwhelmed. And most clubs don’t overwhelm you at this time. They’re trying other alternatives. I know we’ve played almost 50 games, but when you get to the All-Star break, the standings could look significantly different.

“I don’t think they want to pay an exorbitant price [today] thinking they’re going to be there then you’re not. There’s a vast amount of injuries to pitchers. The Dodgers have eight pitchers on the 60-day [injured list] and two other pitchers on the 15. … Their depth will catch up to them at some point. We have so many games to play yet. We really have to be careful." []

The games that really matter

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies have been shaky through their first two months of the season, and while that's still incredibly frustrating on its own, if they're going to find a time to start getting into a groove, now would be the time. 

They had their first series matchup with the Braves this past weekend and walked away with a split, the Mets are on-deck, and with plenty of divisional matchups still ahead. 

There's an opportunity to do some real damage here, but – as Corey Seidman notes – the club really needs to start getting it together in order to do so:

A potential saving grace is that the Phillies have played only seven of their 52 NL East games. It's no longer early, but there are still plenty of head-to-head matchups that would allow them to rise in the division if they can get their act together.

Tuesday night in New York is a big game, not just because it's the first Phillies-Mets tilt of the season but because they desperately need to see progress from [Ranger Suarez] in his fourth start. Nearly every inning he's pitched since returning from an elbow injury has been stressful. He's thrown 29 first-pitch strikes and 26 first-pitch balls. This is a guy who had a 2.72 ERA in 261⅓ innings the last two years. 

The Phillies' push late last season is proof that you don't need to hit your stride in the first two months in order to make a deep playoff run. But it's a new year, a new team and a new set of inconsistencies. 

"Every guy is going to have to look in the mirror and understand what their job is, what their role is," [Bryce Harper] said last week. "We need to have urgency every day that we play. It doesn't matter if we're in first place, last place or in the middle.

"I don't like the mindset of, 'Oh, it's early, it's May.' You play this game with urgency." [NBCSP]

Learning to walk again

Alex Coffey | The Philadelphia Inquirer

If there's been one true positive about the Phillies' 2023 campaign so far, it's the progression of the daycare. 

Bryson Stott is hitting with much more consistency, Alec Bohm with more power, and Brandon Marsh, who was acquired last summer for his glove more than anything, is just faring way better at the plate across the board. 

As Alex Coffey wrote of the 25-year-old centerfielder, he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long to simplify his swing and is getting more time to see the ball on the way to the plate because of it, which in turn, is allowing Marsh to make better decisions on pitches and take more control of his at-bats. 

He's also walking more too, and he's really getting to like that:

Marsh has provided the Phillies with plenty of offensive production this season, but his plate discipline has allowed him to contribute even when he’s in a slump. Over his last 15 games, Marsh has hit .143/.280/.143, but he’s also walked eight times. For the season, he entered Sunday night’s game at .267/.374/.459.

“I love walks. I love them. Because I feel like it’s harder to walk than to get a hit sometimes. You take four against these guys, it’s a good feeling. You get to walk to first, you don’t have to run it out or anything. You can just walk there.”

He says it’s easy for young players to swing more frequently. Earlier in his career, Marsh would often go up to the plate trying to hit a home run, or hit a ball in the gap. But as he’s matured, he’s learned to simplify things.

“In reality, I just need to get to first,” he said. “Just keep it simple.” [The Inquirer]

As bad as it is weird

Jay Jaffe | FanGraphs

And if there's been anything more baffling about the 2023 Phillies' campaign so far – though there are a lot of candidates for that one – the early struggles of $300 million shortstop Trea Turner are definitely up there.

After dominating for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic, where he was hitting a home run just about every single night, Turner just hasn't looked like the star he's been for the past several years since making his Phillies debut. 

He's been pressing, chasing, and even by his own admittance, has been playing poorly so far. 

Maybe he's feeling the pressure to live up to that massive contract out of the gate, but either way his performance through the first two months has been an anomaly relative to the rest of his career. 

It's been bad, and at the same time, just as weird, as Jay Jaffe discovered with a deep dive into the analytics. 

A small excerpt from his findings, though it should be read in full HERE with the data, graphs, and all:

Drilling down a bit further, one of the unsettling things about Turner’s performance is that he’s being eaten alive by four-seam fastballs...

Turner is whiffing more often and making worse contact against four-seamers than at any other point in his career, cup-of-coffee season excluded. Within these numbers is some small-sample weirdness. For example, he’s 1-for-22 against lefties on four-seamers, though his xSLG and xwOBA against them are higher than against righties. His decline here is so drastic that he’s gone from being five runs above average against the heater last year to 11 below average before we’re a third of the way through this season. In fact, no batter has been worse against a single pitch type so far... [FanGraphs]

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