Phillies

What gives with this Phillies offense that was supposed to be among the league's best?

What gives with this Phillies offense that was supposed to be among the league's best?

With Bryce Harper out of the Phillies' lineup for the first time all season, the Phillies had their weakest offensive performance of the season, mustering just three baserunners — two singles and a double — in a 2-0 loss to the Diamondbacks (see observations).

The Phillies' loss, coupled with the Braves’ 8-7 win in 11 innings, put Atlanta a game ahead and in sole possession first place for the first time all season.

The Phillies were careful, at least outwardly, about looking past the D-backs to the Braves and this weekend's divisional showdown. On Wednesday, they failed to solve 30-year-old right-hander Merrill Kelly, who has allowed just two runs over his last 22⅓ innings.

The lack of offense wasted Zach Eflin's eight-inning gem, which was filled with weak contact and saw Eflin match his career high with nine strikeouts.

Eflin is a mild-mannered guy who doesn't get very high after a good start. He showed a little fire, though, talking after the game about the Phillies' recent stretch of below-average baseball. They've lost eight of 13.

"It's all about how you respond to it," he said. "How much does it piss you off, how much does it make you wanna go out and kick someone's ass? We're gonna be just fine. Just one of those rough patches every team goes through."

The Phillies have fallen short of expectations at the plate this season. They've been a middle-of-the-pack offense, ranking 15th in the majors in runs scored. They rank 20th in home runs and 18th in slugging percentage. This was believed to be one of the majors' deepest lineups, but to this point, it hasn't played out that way.

An interesting exercise is to ask yourself who the Phillies' best hitter has been this season. It's not an easy answer. There's been solid play from guys like Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Harper, but none that really jumps off the page.

"I think we're going to hit home runs," manager Gabe Kapler said after the loss. "I guess if you just look at a third of the season, would I have expected that's where we'd rank? Probably not. Do I expect us to rank there at the end of the season? I don't. I think we have power up and down the lineup. We have guys who have a history of hitting home runs. I expect that trend to continue.

"I think we have better baseball in us than this recent stretch of games. We have more consistent baseball in us than this recent stretch of games. We have to play better in order to beat teams like the Braves and the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. These are very good teams."

Realmuto took this one hard, that the Phillies couldn't support a pitcher who was dealing the way Eflin was. Eflin has been the Phillies' best and most consistent starting pitcher this season but the Phils have scored a grand total of 10 runs in his last five starts, which won't win any pitcher many games.

"It's more frustrating from an offensive standpoint when you've got a guy battling like that on the mound and we weren't able to do anything for him and put any runs across the board," Realmuto said. "I can't say enough about the way he pitched today so it's definitely frustrating when they do get a couple runs and it's on weak contact like that. It happens. It's just baseball."

Kapler has some things to figure out atop the lineup. Cesar Hernandez is not effective right now out of the leadoff spot. He is 5 for 50 over his last 13 games and has a .222 OBP since replacing Andrew McCutchen in the leadoff spot.

Kapler acknowledged postgame that a little shakeup is under consideration. It could involve Roman Quinn, who is likely to be activated this weekend in Atlanta.

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The DH sucks but would undoubtedly help the Phillies

The DH sucks but would undoubtedly help the Phillies

The designated hitter coming to the National League is an inevitability. To some, it's a welcome inevitability. Personally, I hate it, but I acknowledge I'm probably outnumbered.

It's not about watching pitchers hit. That is the over-simplified one-line response from DH proponents. It is about many additional elements of strategy not having a DH adds. If you're a pitcher, it affects how you approach the 6-7-8-9 hitters. There is more thinking ahead. 

That goes for managers, too, who face the difficult of question of, "Do I pull Jacob deGrom with two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning in a scoreless game for the extra offense?"

That doesn't happen in the AL. The Justin Verlanders of the world pitch until they're no longer effective. There is no difficult decision for the manager. 

There is also less need for a bench. AL teams sometimes run three-man benches. And plenty of AL bench players exist only as defensive replacements and/or pinch-runners.

But whatever. It's probably coming. Could be coming as early as 2021, according to Jim Bowden.

It would actually benefit the Phillies, though. The Phils face a potential logjam in the corner infield with Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, Scott Kingery and Jean Segura. Only one of them can play third base. And Hoskins or Bohm would be at first base. If the DH came to the NL in 2021, the Phils could just slot Bohm into that position.

They could also use Hoskins, who isn't exactly an above-average defensive first baseman, as the DH. And toward the end of Bryce Harper's 13-year contract, his days of effective right field defense could be over and that may be the ideal spot for him.

It will be an adjustment when the NL rules change, and there will be some hard feelings, but the baseball world will probaby get over it within a few years. MLB has already adopted the three-batter rule for relievers, altered active rosters to 26 and prevented teams from utilizing their entire 40-man roster in September. These changes, in conjunction, are pretty significant too.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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