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May 04, 2021

The Phillies have some big problems right now — which is their worst?

Phillies MLB
Phillies-Cardinals-Didi-Gregorius-Kate-Frese_041721-88.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius.

The Phillies have played .500 baseball and have looked like a .500 team this season through 29 games. On paper, their 14-15 record is actually impressive, with regard to the quality of their opponents so far and the fact that they have been outscored by 16 runs.

So why is a team with three top tier starters and a slew of former All-Stars in the lineup losing so much? Well, the Phils are underachieving. They are below the league average in batting average, getting on base, hitting home runs and every other offensive category. They also have a 4.39 ERA as a team, the 11th worst of 30 teams. But it goes deeper than just hitting and pitching. 

Here are five reasons why the Phillies are struggling, and where they must focus on improving if they hope to turn things around:

1. The defense

The eyeball test, for any Phillies fan, is painstaking when watching this team play in the field. They aren't making routine plays, and they are giving teams so many extra at bats it's positively mind-numbing. 

CategoryStat Rank
Defensive efficiency.68622nd
Fielding runs above avg.-1429th
Runs saved above avg.-1127th
Runs allowed per game4.4114th

Rhys Hoskins is one of the worst-fielding first baseman in the league so far. Did Gregorius has been not only one of the worst shortstops defensively but one of the worst defensive players as a whole this year. And all of the Phillies centerfielders have been trash (more on that later).

"We need to clean it up," manager Joe Girardi said after a bevy of defensive missteps cost the Phillies in their wacky 8-7 loss to the Mets back on Sunday.

That's an understatement. 

If the Phillies simply made the fundamental plays a major league team is supposed to — like throwing to the correct base or not bobbling routine double-play balls, they'd probably have a few more wins (they are 6-6 in their 12 one-run games so far). Playing solid defense is simple but it will go a long way in fixing what ails this team.

2. Centerfield

Centerfield is a disaster. Nick Maton, who has been filling in at second base for the injured but soon to return Jean Segura, may become the next experiment out there, after the following players have more or less totally flamed out over the course of one month:

Roman Quinn16.116/.255/.233
Mickey Moniak7.120/.214/.240
Odubel Herrera7.091/.130/.091
Adam Haseley6.190/.190/.238
Scott Kingery1.143/.143/.143

If Maton can keep hitting (he is hitting .327 right now), it will go a long way toward improving the lineup. Essentially, whoever is playing center — in addition to being dreadful from a defensive perspective — has been an automatic out. Centerfielders have a combined WAR of -1.1 this season.

And Andrew McCutchen in left hasn't been much better. The veteran former MVP is hitting .176 and has struggled with his vision and ability to get to the ball. And reserve corner outfielder Matt Joyce has also been putrid at the plate; he's hitting just .103 in 16 games. 

Basically, every outfielder who isn't Bryce Harper has been worthless so far.

3. The bullpen

It's hard to be upset with a bullpen that is substantially better, coming on the heals of 2020's worst-ever group. But the 2021 'pen hasn't been lights out by any stretch. Their 4.90 ERA is one of the worst rates in baseball despite their bullpen being relatively well-rested (they've used relievers in just over 90 innings, the third fewest of any team). 

Relief ERA4.9026th
Save %57%22nd
Homers allowed1624th
Inherited runners scored51%29th
Batting average against.24522nd
Slugging percentage against.44127th

As you can see, the 'pen is not a strength. They blow saves left and right, and cannot pitch from the stretch with any success.

There's a reason why Girardi keeps his starters in so long, with the rotation eating the third-most innings of any starting group in baseball. The 'pen simply needs to be better if the Phillies want to be true contenders in 2021.

4. The injury bug

The season is about one month old. The following players have missed time due to injury for the Phillies:

  1. J.T. Realmuto
  2. Bryce Harper
  3. Jean Segura
  4. Didi Gregorius
  5. Ronald Torreyes
  6. Brad Miller
  7. Archie Bradley
  8. Jose Alvarado
  9. Matt Moore

That's more than one third of the Opening Day roster missing time. And due to these setbacks, Girardi has had to hand the ball to 17 different pitchers and trot out 20 different lineups (not including pitchers) in 29 games.

In a season as long as MLB's, consistency can go a long way. 

5. Bad luck

It might seem like a cop out to blame luck, but the Phillies have gotten pretty screwed lately, mostly by umpires. Bad calls, like on a base-running interference — or on this, somehow, not being a game-tying home run, have made things hard for the Phils:

There have been other things, like injuries (which we touched on before). Harper was hit in the face with a 97 mph fastball. That's kind of unlucky. The entire sport of baseball is, in a way, reliant on luck. Defense is partially about being in the right place at the right time, which Philly has not done a good job with. 

It almost seems as though the calls haven't gone Philadelphia's way since Alec Bohm was called safe at home in Atlanta after not touching the plate. Hopefully the baseball gods reverse the trend sometime soon.

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