Philadelphia Phillies: Offensive woes threaten to derail promising start

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Phillies had a promising start to the season, but a historically bad offensive slump threatens to derail any hopes of a playoff birth.

The date was Saturday, May 26th when the Philadelphia Phillies moved to a half a game ahead of the next closest team in the division, the Atlanta Braves, to claim sole possession of first place in the National League East. It was the first time the Phillies had sat in first place in the month of May since 2011.

Boy, things change in a hurry.

We are now in the month of June, and those days feel long gone as the Phillies were swept by the San Francisco Giants in three games (via Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia). But it wasn’t merely that they endured a sweep against a team with a losing record, it was more about the way the Phillies just seemed to fall off the face of the earth, especially at the plate.

The Phillies had three quality starts from Nick Pivetta, Vince Velazquez, and Jake Arrieta that were squandered by an offense that has become completely inept. They lost 4-0, 2-0, and 6-1 respectively. The lone run of the series came off the bat of their ace pitcher. What was once a strength of the team early on has quickly become their nemesis.

It may be difficult to gauge where the mindset of the team is right now following such an embarrassing series. One thing is sure, we should have an idea of how the team responds when they conclude their road trip against the Chicago Cubs this week, as the schedule will not get any easier moving forward.

If the Phillies are going to rebound, they must first fix their collective approach at the plate. They scored one run in 27 innings against the Giants, and had it not been for Arrieta’s home run, they likely would have been shutout for a third consecutive time. They failed to score a run 16 times with runners in scoring position. This team is indeed young, but that type of performance is alarming.

The Phillies have not won consecutive games since May 17 and that is certainly not due to pitching. Players like Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Carlos Santana, and Aaron Altherr are just not getting it done at the plate. Herrera’s numbers have sagged big time as he has just four hits in his last 10 games and has not scored a run during that span. His average is down to .305. Altherr, meanwhile, has looked completely lost. He is hitting .181 and struck out five times over the weekend. 

Carlos Santana was brought in to provide a big bat and to get on base. So far, the returns have been questionable. Santana does have 10 hits in his last 10 games, but he has only one run in that span and only three RBIs. He is hitting .218.

It’s not as if the Phillies are facing Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw every night. They faced two rookie pitchers in the Giants series. That’s just not good enough. The club will need a lot more out of their best players if they are going to break out of this slump.

So what can Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak do to stop the bleeding before it really gets out of hand? Most times, all a manager can do is shuffle his lineup around or sit a player down. We know Kapler is not going to just stop taking an analytics approach to game planning. He was brought here to do just that. And in Kapler’s defense, he did have his batters swinging early and often, which is usually how you want your team to attack a rookie pitcher. But unfortunately, it has not produced results. 

The hope is that the team can find a way to break through the slump and starts hitting the way they were in parts of May and April. The team should get Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford back soon, which should give Kapler more options when drawing up matchups.

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Klentak, on the other hand, may need to start making some calls. You may argue that this team is still too young to compete and that there shouldn’t be too much overreaction. Perhaps, but I’d argue that this team has proven that they can compete with the better teams in the National League. Are they contenders for a World Series? No, but they are not as bad as they appeared this weekend either.

If Klentak believes that this team can be improved by adding a piece or two before the trade deadline, preferably a player that could help them at the plate, then he may feel obliged to concoct some sort of deal. It is widely believed that the Phillies will be big spenders next offseason, but Klentak may feel that the team needs help now in order to save the season.

Next: Jake Arrieta has every right to be frustrated over lack of offense

What was once a promising start to a young team’s season has now turned into a test of integrity and fortitude. The bottom line is this: the Phillies must find a way to shake the cobwebs off and rediscover some of their offensive mojo if they want to remain in the NL East discussion.