But the problem these days is that the Phillies’ one-sided formula hasn’t worked as well as anyone here hoped. They started June with just three more wins than the ill-fated Washington Nationals, barely holding off the Miami Marlins for third place in the National League East. They watched the New York Mets face the third-biggest division lead in June since division play began in 1969. They were consumed with questions about the stability of their clubhouse, the kind of questions only the winner can answer definitively.
In fairness, the Phillies (22-29) aren’t the only NL East team watching what was supposed to be a competitive division out of reach before the All-Star break. The defending World Series champions, the Atlanta Braves, have a losing record and also trail the Mets by double digits in the win column.
But the Phillies haven’t spent more on their roster than anyone else but the Mets, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers to finish in third place. Their predictable weaknesses on defense and in the bullpen plagued them. The powerful range they hoped to rely on has been mediocre. They lost 10 games by one run, third in baseball and four in extra innings, tied for second. Three of those extra-innings losses came this week in a particularly painful end to May.
“Right now,” wide receiver JT Realmuto said, “anything that can happen to us to lose usually happens.”
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Agonizing stretches like this consume potential suitors every year, but that offers little consolation to those who endure them, as each feels like its own confusing affliction. The regularity with which the Phillies’ bullpen and defense have crumbled, combined with the reliability with which their offense has done just enough to keep them in games, has forged a team that seems capable of only losing in the way the most demoralizing.
But this recent slide fits the mold of many others. The losses are piling up for a team that was supposed to be better. Post-game responses that once ended with “It’s early” are slowly beginning to end with a less compelling “There’s still time.” Clubhouse culture is in question: Manager Joe Girardi spent much of his pre-match time with reporters this week dismissing a Philadelphia Investigator’s Report it suggested the Phillies had been lifeless in recent weeks – and dismissed concerns over his job security with a hint of frustration that no team wants to see in their manager in May.
“I’m not worried about my job,” Girardi told NBC Sports Philadelphia after the Phillies were swept by the Mets in New York last weekend. “I never worried about my job. I don’t worry about my job. I have to do my job.
Girardi has plenty of baseball-related concerns to keep him busy. The Phillies went 4-12 to end May. Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos have more slugging on-base percentages at least 150 points lower than in 2021.
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“It’s a snowball. It’s a momentum game,” Realmuto said. “If we win a few close games in a row, maybe the attack starts to click and we go on a little run.”
“It’s taking us longer to do this race than expected,” he added. “But we think it’s just around the corner.”
But hours into June, this race couldn’t have felt more out of reach. The Phillies had lost seven of eight games, many with late-game errors. Their top average May hitters, Jean Segura and Bryce Harper, had been knocked out of the roster by injuries. Segura has broken a finger and will be out for up to three months. Harper has a torn right ulnar collateral ligament and has been restricted to designated hitting duties while waiting to see if injecting platelet-rich plasma into his elbow will allow him to play in the outfield. He was supposed to be the DH again on Wednesday, but the Phillies scratched him with forearm pain, something he later told reporters he didn’t expect to do. stay out of alignment longer.
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Either way, as the plummeting Phillies headed into their June opener against Giants ace Carlos Rodón, owner of the third-highest strikeout rate in the majors, batting average the highest of their roster was 0.269. Castellanos and Hoskins spent the moments after arriving at the stadium and donning their warm-up shirts sitting in front of their lockers with their hands on their knees facing each other talking morale.
“Besides the team not meeting expectations and me not meeting expectations, I’m fantastic,” Castellanos told Hoskins, who laughed, stood up and offered the only assessment the players baseball seem to find when nothing is right.
“It is what it is,” Hoskins said. Then he headed out to the field to take some ground balls.
It’s been an undeniable disappointment so far, as easy to understand in some ways as it is confusing in others. A team built around Harper and sluggers Castellanos, Hoskins and Schwarber has the 10th-highest home run rate in the majors and the ninth-worst strikeout rate. Of the teams with winning records, only the Los Angeles Angels – who arrive at Citizens Bank Park on Friday – strike more often. Twelve teams have scored more runs through the home run than the Phillies, who were built to outplay everyone. Ten teams score more points per game.
“We are built around power. I think the game these days is built more around power just because it’s often harder to string hits together with pitching,” Girardi said this week. “Solo home runs usually don’t beat you. Walking a bit more would help. Maybe a few more hits.
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The Phillies got two crucial extra hits in Wednesday’s win, one to put a man on Nick Maton’s home run, the other to put a man on Schwarber’s swing moments later. But while all teams would benefit from an extra hit here or there, the Phillies demand it. Their bullpen ranks in the bottom third of MLB by ERA, and they’re fourth with 14 losses in games they’ve led at one point.
And their defense has been as limited as expected, even more embarrassing in the big spots: they are the worst team at the majors in defensive runs saved at under-26, meaning Philadelphia’s defense was 26 points worse than an average team — and five shy of the next closest team. For a one-point game-losing team designed to hit hard enough that defense didn’t matter, that mattered a lot.
But perhaps the issues that have dimmed the Phillies’ playoff hopes won’t necessarily doom them — not yet. In their first game of June, it only took two big swings – the kind of swings this team was built to deliver, the kind of swings this team needs to have going forward – to turn a another close loss into a much-needed victory. If there’s one thing the mighty Phillies should be able to do, it’s turn things around quickly.