After the Mets broke out the brooms to start the week, the Phils had their opportunity on Sunday to take their second series of the season from the Nationals until Joaquin Benoit did his best Jeanmar Gomez impression. The Phils got 3 pretty solid performances from their starters in the Nationals series but the bullpen turned two of them into losses. The end result was 5 losses in 6 games. Things aren’t about to get any easier as they head into New York for their second shot at the Mets.
56 runs in 12 games (4.6/game) seems like a pretty good scoring clip. When you take the 17 run output from last weekend out of the equation, it drops to 3.5/game. The Phils are scratching and clawing for runs and relying on the HR or timely hits. They’ve gotten some of the latter (2 2-out RBI’s on Sunday) but the former, not so much. The middle of the lineup has been a bit of an albatross. Maikel Franco (.174), Michael Saunders (.225) and Tommy Joseph (.167) have 3 HR’s between them while Cesar Hernandez has 3 by himself to lead the team. Hernandez and Freddy Galvis have 15 of the teams 50 RBI compared to 14 for Franco and Saunders. This team has no definitive identity on offense. It has relied heavily on the HR ball in a few of it’s games but this is not a team built to do that. If the middle of the lineup doesn’t start to produce, it’s about time for Mackanin to take a closer look at the lineup he’s using.
Clay Buchholz…we hardly knew ya. After getting lit up in each of his first 2 starts in Phils uniform, Buchholz injured his forearm and could potentially be done for the season pending a 2nd opinion this week. I figured I’d start this with some good news and from what I saw, that’s as good as it gets. Jeremy Hellickson went out and put together another fins start on Saturday. With a 1.59 ERA through 3 starts, he’s performing exactly as the Phils hoped. If he can keep it up through June, the suitors should come knocking. Jerad Eickhoff had another fine start on Sunday as well but it was ruined by the bullpen just like many of the games in the early going. Aaron Nola has shown thus far that he appears to be healthy. The biggest issue BY FAR is the bullpen. With a few exceptions (Hector Neris & Pat Neshek, who have 12 innings and 0 runs between them) no game is safe once Mackanin makes that walk to the mound.
Around the N.L. East
Nationals– After leaving Philly last week having lost 2 of 3 to the Phils, the Nats went home and took the first 2 from the Cards in convincing fashion, outscoring St. Louis 22-9. The cards took the 3rd game 6-1 before the Phillies came to town on a 3 game skid. The Nats stole game 1 against the Phils thanks to some Utley-esque hustle from Bryce Harper. Harper rounded the bases and scored from first in the 10th inning on a line drive to left by Daniel Murphy. The Phils took game 2 thanks to Cesar Hernandez long ball before the bullpen did it’s thing again on Sunday. Once again, Harper got to play the hero but this time by himself. After Benoit buried him 0-2, he got cute and Harper went deep to center to walk off with the series win and a tie for first in hand. The Nats go on the road with 3 against the somewhat surprising Braves and 3 more in New York with the Mets.
Marlins– The Marlins division lead didn’t hold up too long despite another good week. After splitting a 2 game set with the Braves, the marlins lost game 1 to the Mets in a 9-8 slug-fest. They followed that up with 3 straight wins. Sunday’s game was capped off by a walkoff HR by rookie J.T. Riddle with just his 2nd career hit. Unlike the rest of the division, the Marlins will finally make their way outside of the division for an entire week. Their first West Coast swing of the season will take them to Seattle and San Diego for 3 games each. Both teams are sitting at 5-8 and near the bottom of their respective divisions. If the Marlins can continue to play how they have the first 2 weeks of the season, they’ll have a good chance of still sitting near the top this time next week.
Mets– After taking care of the Phillies in a 3 game sweep, their series with the Marlins did not go quite as well. After taking the opener, the Marlins stole the final 3 of the series. The Mets are living and dying with the long ball thus far. With 22 HR’s thus far (out of 59 total runs scored), the Mets will be hoping that their pitching staff continues to hold up through the course of the season. The Mets will welcome the Phils and Nats for 3 each in New York before these 3 teams take a much needed break from each other for a while.
Braves– Things didn’t start out too well in week one or the beginning of week 2 (a L to Miami) but after stealing game 2 from the Marlins with runs in both the 8th and 9th innings, things got revved up for the Braves as they opened SunTrust Park. After winning the first 3 against the Padres, Sunday brought about a touch of history. Normally, an older pitcher making another start is just that…unless it’s Bartolo Colon who outlasted an entire stadium. Colon made his MLB debut for Cleveland in April 1997 the same year that Turner Field opened. 20 years later, Colon made his Braves debut in the opening series at their new ballpark. It’s not long that one pitcher outlasts an entire stadium. To top things off, he did it in style with 7 strong innings and a 9-2 win to take the 3rd of a 4 game series that will wrap up on Monday. The Braves are only 5-6 but that is a significant improvement from last year in what they hope is the next step in their growth back to a contender. After they complete their series with San Diego, Washington will come to town for 3 then the Braves will head north to Citizens Bank Park for 3 with the Phils.
After opening the season in Cincy, the Phils have traveled into and out of N.L. East ballparks for the last 2 weeks, That trend will continue this week with 3 in New York with the Mets and 3 at home with the Braves. Zach Eflin will get his first start of the season on Tuesday in place of Clay Buchholz. Vince Velasquez will start game 2 of the series and Aaron Nola will close it out. Eflin will be auditioning for a possible rotation spot the rest of the season while Velasquez will look to get straightened out. He hasn’t gotten beyond the 5th inning in either of his starts thus far and he’ll need to start extending himself and taking some heat off the bullpen. The Phils need to get the middle of the order going. If they need to continue relying on the top/bottom of the lineup, wins are not going to get much more plentiful.
We’ve got two weeks in the books and a whole summer ahead. Let’s hope for baby steps at this point. The two biggest keys to this season are a) trade bait producing (Hellickson, Kendrick, etc.) and b) growth of the youth. We’ve only got 3 months for the first part but a long 6 months for the second. So sit back and (try to) enjoy the ride.
We’re only 2 weeks into the season but we are already seeing many of the deficiencies we expected but a few more that we didn’t.