Phillies 2015 – Week Five
When I asked (oh yeah, I volunteered) to be the Phillies Week in Review guy, I knew we were in for a long summer. But, after a month, I find myself feeling like documentarian-filmmaker Morgan Spurlock after he spent 30 days eating nothing but McDonald’s. Sure, I’ve enjoyed a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (Aaron Harang’s solid pitching) here and an Apple Pie (Freddy Galvis continued growth) there. But, mostly, I just feel queasy.
A three game set in Atlanta started with the Phillies dropping a three spot in the first inning on Braves’ lefty Alex Wood. Aaron Harang provided the solid effort to which we are becoming accustomed and the bullpen reinforced the notion that it can and will shorten a game when given a lead. The Phils racked up 14 hits, including four by Jeff Francoeur and three by Carlos Ruiz in a thoroughly enjoyable 5-2 victory in front of the kind of sparse and disinterested crowd that you might expect at Turner Field in early May.
Chad Billingsley, having worked his way back from Tommy John surgery and surgery on a torn flexor tendon, was making only his third start since the end of the 2012 season and his first as a Phillie. He looked like a guy making only his third start in three years. He had moments, cruising through the second and third innings with relative ease. But, he allowed home runs in the first and fourth innings to Freddie Freeman and Kelly Johnson that put his team in a deep hole. Meanwhile, Braves righty Shelby Miller was tying the Phillies’ hitters in knots. He twirled a gem of a three-hit complete game as Philadelphia was shut out for the fourth time this season, 9-0.
As has been mentioned before in this column, this team does not appear to be built to come from behind. But, they have shown heart and flashes of gritty determination. After answering a first inning run by the Braves with one of their own in the third, they answered a four-run fifth with a three-run sixth. Unfortunately, they never made it all the way back as a ninth inning rally fell short when Braves’ closer Jason Grilli froze Odubel Herrera with strike three to end the game. The 7-5 loss gave the Phils a 3-7 record on their 10-game road trip.
This day off was dominated by news from the NFL. An investigation into Tom Brady and the New England Patriots resulted in findings that could lead to some noteworthy punishment in response to their involvement in the deflation of game balls.
You may ask, ‘Does deflating a ball make that big a difference?’. Whether it can or not, the rules are clear. After the SpyGate scandal of 2007, their success has always been viewed askance.
Why mention it here? I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to five years ago when the Phillies were the two-time defending National League champs and one of the most dangerous and devastating offenses in recent memory. In May of 2010, multiple complaints from Phillie opponents and a damning video courtesy of the Colorado Rockies led to the investigation of bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer and whether or not he was stealing signs from his outfield perch. No official action, beyond a strongly worded reprimand was ever taken. But, that vaunted Philadelphia offense has never been the same. Just sayin’ …
Friday night at Citizen’s Bank Park had it all … perfect weather, the rival New York Mets, Cole Hamels vs. Matt Harvey. What more could you possibly ask for? A win?? Ok, then.
Apart from two wild pitches that led to the Mets’ only run, Hamels was as good as we have seen him in a long time. If you could diagram the winning formula for this team, it would be seven strong innings out of the starter (in this case, Hamels) followed by the dominance of Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon in the eighth and ninth, sprinkle in a Ryan Howard homer and a few deftly manufactured runs and there you have it. In fact, their third run was a thing of absolute beauty. A lead-off single by ‘Chooch’ Ruiz in the fifth inning, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Hamels and an RBI single to left by Ben Revere and they had squeezed an insurance run out of the 8-9-1 spots in the lineup. Phillies 3, Mets 1.
Mets starter Jon Niese and Harang traded donuts for four innings before the Mets broke through when second baseman Cesar Hernandez mishandled Lucas Duda’s ground ball with two out in the fifth, allowing Ruben Tejada to score. The Phils answered with two in the bottom of the sixth. But, Phillie-killer Juan Lagares tomahawked a high 1-0 fastball into the leftfield seats for a two-run shot in the top of the seventh and the see-saw tipped again. When Mets’ reliever Alex Torres walked the only two hitters he faced in the eighth, Ruiz had a chance, with the bases loaded and one out, to put the home team back in front. He scorched a 1-1 pitch toward leftfield. But, it was flagged down impressively by a lunging Tejada and turned into a crushing 6-4-3 double play. Jeurys Familia was solidly unspectacular in closing down the win in the ninth. Mets 3, Phillies 2.
Billingsley made his second start of the week against a Mets lineup with no player hitting higher than .290 and six of the eight non-pitchers hitting .230 or less. He cruised through the first three innings and punctuated his effort with a line-drive solo home run that bounced off the base of the screen adjacent to the fair pole down the left field line and the score stood … Billingsley 1, Visitors 0. It was 2-1 Phillies in the fifth when a borderline 2-strike pitch to Curtis Granderson was called a ball, the New York rightfielder then immediately hit what we will editorially call “strike four” halfway to South Street for a go-ahead two-run bomb. The Mets continued to tack on runs against the Phillies bullpen and a comeback rally in the seventh inning fell short when Ryan Howard’s bases loaded ground ball was cleanly fielded by Duda to end the inning. When the dust settled, the seemingly punchless New York lineup had amassed seven runs on fourteen hits. Mets 7, Phillies 4.
Sitting 9-1/2 games out at 11-21 on Mother’s Day, you could make the ‘it’s still early’ argument. But, it is much more realistic to note the clear pattern that has developed. For every game this team wins, they lose two. Over 162 games, that is a 54-108 mark. A franchise doesn’t reach 10,000 losses before anyone else without fielding some brutal squads. But, that record would constitute a nadir point for the last 50 years, making this potentially the most disappointing Phillies team of most of our lifetimes.
Looking ahead –
Four games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and three with the Arizona Diamondbacks, all at the Bank. Both teams are hovering around .500 having underachieved thus far. One can only hope that getting out of the division for a few days will combine with the relative comforts of home to produce some winning baseball. The Pirates offense will be looking to awaken as they send familiar faces Vance Worley and A.J. Burnett to the mound. Arizona is led by masher Paul Goldschmidt (.355, 9HR, 27RBI).
Walkin’ Blues –
Having issued 122 bases on balls in their first 32 games (I’ll give you a moment to do the math … but it’s just under four a game), the Phillies’ pitching staff actually leads the league in a category. Not the one you want to be leading in, per se. But, what are ya gonna do … not walk 4 guys a game?
Minor Threat –
Top prospect J.P. Crawford, who had been shelved by an oblique strain for the opening weeks of the season, returned to the Clearwater Threshers lineup this week with notable flair. He went 8-for-15 with a homer, five RBI and four runs scored. Add 5 walks to his line and you are looking at a .533 batting average and a .667 on-base percentage. At this rate, we may see him in Reading sooner than we expected.