Or, maybe the first question is, do the Phillies need to be saved? Thirteen games is hardly a deep look into the season, but considering the 6-7 Phillies were supposed to take advantage of a soft early schedule, it certainly looks like the Phillies need a boost. Or else they could be headed toward a repeat of 2012. One of the reasons it’s tempting to project out the Phillies after so few games is because the team looks so familiar. Same names, same manager, same problems. Several of their early losses look like they were pulled from the 2012 files. Could one player make that much of a difference? Is Ruiz’s offense and his handling of the staff something that turns games in the Phillies favor? With Chooch coming off a career year, it’s tempting to make those arguments.
But, I think that argument ignores what the real problems were last year. The Phillies season fell apart last year after Roy Halladay went on the DL (while Ruiz was having that career year). On August 2nd, the last game Carlos Ruiz played before returning on September 9th, the Phillies were 47-58. Ruiz had cooled to .335 at this point, but was still the team’s biggest offensive weapon. When Ruiz came back, the Phillies were 67-71. They’d gone 20-13 without Ruiz in the lineup and they’d close the season 14-10 with him back behind the plate. The Phillies were a better team with Ruiz, and last year would have been much worse without some of his 1st half heroics, but his performance is not what causes the Phillies to win and lose in the big picture.
If you believe in a stat like WAR, Ruiz was worth 4.5 wins to the team last year. So, that would be the best case scenario for this season when he comes back. Are the Phillies 4 wins out of a playoff spot?
The Phillies have a couple of players off to fine offensive starts this year. Chase Utley looks terrific, which is great to see, and Michael Young has had some huge games –performing better than I thought he would–so far. Even the Mayberry/Nix platoon has put up respectable numbers. So, why doesn’t the Phillies offense score more runs? Why don’t they look better?
The answer is the same as it’s been for the last several seasons. The team doesn’t hit enough home runs to compensate for their lack of ability to get on base. That’s the best way I can boil it down. There are other issues. They don’t hit left-handed pitching, they function poorly with runners in scoring position and in other “situational” moments, but the bottom line is, the Phillies have a home run hitting style lineup that doesn’t hit home runs. In 2008, Utley/Howard/Werth and Burrell hit 138 homers. In 2009, Utley/Howard/Werth and Ibanez hit 144 homers. What’s the ideal 3-6 for this team? Utley/Howard/Ruiz/Michael Young? The upside on that group, even projecting a full season for Ruiz is probably about 95 home runs. That’s a monumental loss of power.
The Phillies have 12 homers in their first 13 games this year, numbers that are right in line with 2012. With the team already in the midst of a five game mini-slump, where it looks like stringing together 4 straight singles is about the only way to score, it’s obvious things from an offensive standpoint aren’t going to change that much. It’ll help to have Ruiz back, but he probably won’t hit .330. He’ll be better than Kratz, who has been terrible, but it won’t be enough to transform the lineup. Not with Ryan Howard struggling, with Revere’s microscopic OBP, and with Michael Young probably coming down a bit from the heights of .370.
So, how does this team win games? They have to win them how they were designed to win them–by pitching like crazy. The Phillies that won the World Series had a dangerous combination of some guys who could get on-base and a 1 through 6 that could take you deep at any time. They really have none of that now. They were rebuilt, in a different mold, the 4-ace mold after 2009 and since then the Phillies have won when they’ve pitched–almost exclusively.
In 2010, the Phillies bottomed out at 48-46 on July 21st. Shortly after that they’d fire Milt Thompson and trade for Roy Oswalt. Over the last 68 games, the Phillies went 49-19. To be fair, the offense did produce 4.89 runs a game over that closing stretch, which is pretty good by modern NL standards, but they were averaging 4.67 runs a game when they were 48-46. In 2011 they won 102 games while scoring 4.4 runs on average.
So, the point I’m getting at is that the Phillies aren’t as good as they were in 2008, because they don’t hit nearly as many home runs, but they’re not as good as they were in 2010 and 2011, because they don’t pitch nearly as well. And this team is a lot more similar to the 2011 team in makeup than the 2008 team. Carlos Ruiz can comeback and mercifully end the run of Eric Kratz, but he’s not going to save the Phillies. To be saved, the Phillies will have to pitch better, get that ERA back among the league leaders, iron out middle relief. Otherwise, it’s going to be ebbs and flows, good streaks like against New York and miserable ones like what started down in Miami.
Last year, the Phillies proved that won’t add up to a playoff spot, so something will have to change this time around. Running down the Nationals and the torrid Braves isn’t going to be easy.