The Philadelphia Phillies (24-31) were never expected to contend in the NL East, but their recent slide has put them even lower in the standings than even pessimists may have expected.
In the first meeting of these teams this season, the Washington Nationals (27-28) fell in two of three games in Philadelphia, a series the Phillies finished at 15-14. That marked the last time they have been over .500 this season. Philadelphia has gone 9-17 since, including losses in nine of their last 14, and three straight. With a .436 winning percentage, the Phillies are ahead of only the Chicago Cubs (.370) and Arizona Diamondbacks (.390) in the NL, and are on pace to lose 91 games this year, two games worse than their 73-89 finish in 2013.
The Phillies’ worst problem has been their bullpen, which ranks 26th in baseball with a 4.30 ERA, a full 2.11 runs more than the Nats’ league-leading 2.19. With eight blown saves in 21 opportunities, the Phillies have a save percentage of 62%, 23rd in baseball. The Nats have first-hand experience with this troubled unit, having scored three runs in the eighth inning of their first matchup to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 win.
While the bullpen may be troubled, the Phillies are also struggling due to an offense and defense that are both in the bottom third of the league. Philadelphia scores 3.93 runs per game and has a team ERA of 4.09, which rank 20th and 22nd respectively. A team can survive without a strong offense or defense when the other unit is strong, but when both are significantly below average, that’s trouble.
Most amazing about the Phillies’ struggles is that they are happening despite career years from two of the team’s stars. 35-year-old Jimmy Rollins is posting a career-best mark in OBP at .352, and has his best slugging percentage (.397) since 2008, the season after he was named NL MVP. Fellow 35-year-old Chase Utley is also experiencing a renaissance. He is triple-slashing .319/.378/.517 with a .905 OPS, marks that are his best since 2007, 2010, 2008, and 2009 respectively.
But as good as the Phillies’ stars have been, last year’s star has been a disaster. Domonic Brown, an All-Star after hitting 27 home runs in 2013, has plummeted off the face of the offensive earth. His .206/.263/.312 line and .576 OPS are in sharp contrast to his numbers from last year: .272/.324/.494/.818. A .576 OPS is good for the fifth-worst in baseball among qualified hitters, and the second worst among left fielders.
While Brown’s bat has been figuratively absent, perhaps a more damaging blow to the Phillies is the actual absence of ace Cliff Lee. After an All-Star 2013, in which he had a 2.87 ERA across 222 innings with a K/9 of 9.0 and a BB/9 of 1.3, Lee was doing nearly as well this year until an elbow injury shut him down on May 19th. He has since remained on the DL, and news broke recently that the elbow is still causing him pain to the point that he cannot yet begin a rehab throwing program, meaning he will be out a while longer.
A consequence of Lee’s absence is a weak starting rotation that will serve to benefit the Nats greatly in this series. None of the three starters likely to face the Nats in D.C. has an ERA below 3.79. With the return of Ryan Zimmerman’s powerful bat, the Nats are poised to take advantage of a free-falling Philadelphia team and attempt to get back over .500.
In The Zone
Denard Span (CF) .421/.450/.474, 1 2B, 1 SB (last seven days)
Carlos Ruiz (C) .407/.467/.519, 2 R, 3 2B (last seven games)
Ben Revere (CF) .277/.297/.417, HR, 3B, 3 SB (last seven games)
Jimmy Rollins (SS) .179/.303/.179, 0 XBH, 0 RBI, 6 K (last seven games)
Chase Utley (2B) .207/.281/.286, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 8 K (last seven days)
5/30, Jordan Zimmermann (3-2, 4.07 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 3.85 K/BB) vs. David Buchanan (1-1, 3.86 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 2.0 K/BB )
5/31, Stephen Strasburg (4-4, 3.15 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 4.74 K/BB) vs. A.J. Burnett (3-4, 3.79 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 1.73 K/BB)
6/1, Doug Fister (3-1, 3.34 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 11.50 K/BB) vs. Kyle Kendrick (1-5, 4.21 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB)