Phillies

What each Phillie must do to jumpstart weak offense

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What each Phillie must do to jumpstart weak offense

The Phillies' offense broke out Thursday in a 9-3 win over the Rockies. Their four-run seventh inning ended a stretch of 257 straight frames without more than two runs.

That may be hard to believe for an outsider but not to anyone who's watched this offense closely of late. There's not one reason the Phillies' offense has been quiet. Everyone is deserving of blame.

Let's take a look at what each individual starting position player must do specifically to improve the offense moving forward. We'll go in order of a typical Phillies lineup.

1. 2B Cesar Hernandez

Hernandez has been the Phillies' most consistent position player since 2016. After hitting .294 with a .372 OBP in 2016-17, he's hit .256 with a .368 OBP this season.

You know that he's going to get on base. That's rarely in question. Hernandez has walked 45 times this season and is on pace for 110, which would shatter his previous career-high of 66.

But would you believe that over his last 42 games and 190 plate appearances, he's hit just .227/.337/.362?

Hernandez also strikes out a ton for a leadoff hitter. He's struck out 67 times out of the leadoff spot, which is 20 more than the next man on the list, David Peralta. 

These days, strikeouts aren't viewed as negatively as they once were. Some teams look at them as just another out. But for someone with Hernandez's speed, you'd like him to put the ball in play a little bit more because soft groundballs could turn into base-hits.

The Phillies could also use a few more stolen bases. He has one steal in 23 games since May 20.

2. LF Rhys Hoskins

It looks like Hoskins is back after a slump and some time on the DL with a fractured jaw. His 3-for-5 afternoon Thursday with a homer, double and three RBI is the type of game the Phillies have seldom gotten from someone in the top-half of the batting order lately.

Hoskins is still getting on base at a great rate (.369 OBP), but he's going to need to hit for more power if the Phillies want to seize a wild-card spot this season. 

Hoskins' .446 slugging percentage ranks 73rd in the majors. He's on pace for 20 homers in 140 games after hitting 18 in 50 games as a rookie.

3. CF Odubel Herrera

The ever-streaky Herrera is in an extended downward phase that has been common throughout his four years with the Phils. 

Since May 20, the night his on-base streak ended, Herrera has gone 15 for 89 (.169) with a .204 OBP. He's scored four runs and driven in four in 22 games. This after he hit .345 in his first 45 games.

Again, not a huge surprise. 

In his rookie year, Herrera hit .251 through the end of June then .335 thereafter.

In 2016, he hit .320 the first 10 weeks and .268 the rest of the way.

Last season, he hit .218 the first two months and .318 the next four.

This is just who Herrera is. His approach at the plate is so variable and involves so much randomness and so many moving parts that you have to take the good with the bad.

There's no doubt the Phillies need more consistency from him because his slumps are just worse than most other players'. When Herrera is slumping, he becomes a near-zero at the plate.

4. 1B Carlos Santana

Defensively, the Phillies need the Santana that played sturdy defense at first base in Cleveland.

Offensively, there hasn't been much to dislike with Santana since the beginning of May. Since May 4, he's hit .286/.389/.556 with 17 extra-base hits and 27 RBI in 36 games.

Folks will still complain about Santana's .224 batting average, but it's a loud .224 fueled by extra-base hits. He's also walked 44 times and struck out 38. 

The only other player in the majors with as many walks as Santana who has walked more than he's struck out is Joey Votto (47-41).

5. RF Aaron Altherr

Not going to put Nick Williams on here because he's been pretty productive lately, off the bench and as a starter, vs. lefties and righties alike.

Altherr, however, has struggled most of the season but evaded criticism because fans have had others to blame.

In 197 plate appearances, Altherr has hit .182/.305/.327. He has 11 extra-base hits and 60 strikeouts.

The Phillies need Altherr to be a lefty-masher. He's hit .170 against southpaws this season with two homers after slugging .505 against them last season.

The five-spot in the Phillies' order hasn't been great this season, and the offense would've looked a lot different recently if Altherr got hot when Hoskins and Herrera cooled off. He was able to carry this offense for most of May 2016 so we know it's in him.

6. SS Scott Kingery

Kingery has swung at 37.4% of pitches outside the strike zone this season, seventh-most in the National League. He's struck out in one-fourth of his plate appearances.

The Phillies need him to stop swinging at low-and-away breaking balls well off the plate. It's been his kryptonite in the majors and he admitted as much earlier this season. He swings at a lot of pitches he has no chance at making contact with, much less driving.

He gets leeway because he's a rookie who just turned 24. But it's hard to imagine Kingery being an effective offensive piece when chasing and whiffing this much.

7. 3B Maikel Franco, J.P. Crawford

Franco is such a strange player. He swings at bad pitches and often wildly, yet his plate appearances rarely end in strikeouts. Would you believe that since the start of last season, 92% of National League players have a higher strikeout rate than Franco? 

The issue is the quality of contact. Franco hits the ball to shortstop or third base so often. He pops up to the shallow outfield with regularity. For a guy with 1,855 big-league plate appearances, it's time to accept this is who he is — a corner infielder with 25-home run power but an inability to post an OBP higher than .300.

As for Crawford, the Phillies need more production across-the-board offensively. He's hit .209 in 182 career plate appearances, and for a guy who walked a lot in the minors with a calling card of plate selection, six walks in 95 plate appearances this season ain't gonna cut it, especially out of the 8-hole when turning over the lineup is crucial.

8. C Jorge Alfaro

Alfaro has been a revelation in several ways this season — power bat, power arm — but there are few major-leaguers who can stick with a strikeout-to-walk ratio like his. Alfaro has 70 K's and eight walks this season, and 111 K's to 12 walks in his career.

Again, at the bottom of a lineup, a walk is important because it betters the chances that the top of the order bats in either that inning or to begin the next. It's tough for any team to score with multiple players at the bottom of the lineup posting OBPs of .295 or lower.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman break down potential compromises between MLB players and owners to get a deal done and baseball back on our screens.

• Gut-feelings/educated guesses: Will there be a 2020 MLB season?

• How can these sides stop circling around each other and find a compromise?

• Ideas for a pay structure.

• What would a 50-game or 60-game season look like schedule-wise?

• Phillies and other clubs hemorrhaging money right now.

• Memories from next week's classic Phillies-Dodgers NLCS re-air.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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