By Dylan MacKinnon
It was not a pretty first week and change for the Phillies. They opened things up with a series win over the Oakland A’s. But then they lost a series to the Mets and Marlins, to start the Season 4-6. The bats seem to be sleeping, and the starting pitching has gotten them into deep holes early in games. But is there any reason to panic, or is this just early season rust? Let’s look at 5 key numbers that can shine some light on the Phillies’ early struggles.
The Phillies’ leadoff hitters are 4 for 41 on the young season. Good for a batting average of just.098. That has mostly been Kyle Schwarber, but JT Realmuto was the leadoff hitter the last two games and went 1 for 9. They also have 4 walks and 17 strikeouts. Their slash line is .098/.195/.195. If you are getting such horrible production out of your leadoff hitter, it’s no wonder the team is struggling to score runs. The person who gets the most at-bats in the game is a near-automatic out.
The question is if this is a reason for concern. I would say not yet. Schwarber is notorious for slow starts. His slash line on April 28th last year was .186/.238/.305, with just 5 extra-base hits. Schwarber will eventually get it going, and at that point, he can maybe be put back up at lead-off. For now, it’s best to keep him out of that spot as long as he is struggling. He did have 2 hits today, and 1 HR, while batting 5th. As for Realmuto, it is way too small of a sample size to judge him as a leadoff hitter.
Since last June, Aaron Nola has an ERA of 5.27. That is compared to the 3.49 career ERA he had going into this stretch. He has started this year giving up 7 earned runs in 9.1 innings. Something is wrong. He was always a bit inconsistent. But he has been genuinely bad early in this season, and for the back 2/3rds of last year. That stretch happens to match up with when the MLB cracked down on foreign substances. Does that mean he was relying on them, and can’t pitch without them? No. It may just be a coincidence. But something is up. His control is not what it used to be, and he leaves way too many pitches over the plate, giving up too many home runs. I cant even say it is early, so don’t panic, because this is now a track record of struggling.
Before the season, the wonder was who would play 3rd base the most, Bryson Stott or Alec Bohm. Turns out there was a name we never considered that would get the most starts at 3rd base through 10 games. Johan Camargo. He has started 6 games at 3rd, and also started another game at 1st. Meanwhile Stott has played only 2 games at 3rd, to go with 5 games at 2nd Base while Segura missed some time, and a single game to spell Didi Gregorius at SS. Bohm has 3 games at 3rd, 1 at DH, and hasn’t played in the field since he had 3 errors Monday Night. Camargo for his part has played fairly well,. hitting over .300, but Bohm is hitting over .700. It is like Ronald Torreyes all over again. Camargo is a quality utility infielder. But the Phillies need to figure out if Bohm or Stott can be the future at 3rd. Girardi is playing Camargo far too much. I get Stott is struggling a bit, and Bohm is a mess in the field. But they cant work through that on the bench.
One early bright spot has been the bullpen. The 4 pitchers expected to be the main guys in the pen are Corey Knebel, Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, and Seranthony Dominquez. Those 4 have a ERA of 0.00 early in this season. Now there have been some bumps if you go further into the bullpen. In several games starters were knocked out early, and names like Cristopher Sanchez, Bailey Falter, and Damon Jones have given up runs in long relief. You would also like to see Jose Alvarado pitch better. He has given up 2 runs in 3 innings. But, the main guys have mostly shutdown opposing hitters. Those 4 have given up 0 runs across 12.66 innings. It is a small sample size, and we need to see more, but it is a good sign early in the season.
It is easy to see a slow start and say this team has no chance to compete. But it is worth pointing out the Braves had a losing record through April last year. At the end of April their winning percentage was.426. In fact they had a losing record through July. They didn’t get into winning territory until August 8th, and then they kept winning, right on until they were hoisting the Commissioner’s trophy and their tour bus was speeding through the streets of Atlanta. Likewise the Nationals had a losing record in April when they won it all in 2019. On the other end the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Astros started off hot the years they won it. But the point is it is a long season. A few losses early on will not keep them from being competitive later in the year.