【N.J】 How to address some of the struggling Phillies’ biggest problems – – – New Jersey News

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Say, didn’t June come bustin’ out all over last week? Right on cue Major League Baseball released its All-Star ballot on June 1.

With the ballot came a reminder of the step-by-step process of choosing the teams. There was even a reminder that last year’s World Series managers — Dusty Baker of the Astros and Rob Thompson of the Phillies — would be the All-Star Game managers.

Rob Thompson?

Oh yeah. I’d almost forgotten. The Phillies were the team that hoisted the National League pennant above their ballpark on opening day, weren’t they? Since then they haven’t done a lot that reminds us of that accomplishment. In fact, on June 2, a day after the All-Star ballots were revealed, they lost a game to the Nationals and fell into a tie for last place in the National League East.

Perhaps that was the season’s nadir. After that experience they won their next four games — albeit, against weak opposition — and are no longer in any immediate danger of becoming a doormat. But they are still a long way from looking like a good baseball team and very long way from looking like a champion.

How have they fallen so far so fast?

The answer is a strange one: They really haven’t. They haven’t fallen very far at all.

The Phillies were the National League champions last year, but they were not the National League’s best team. They qualified for the postseason as the sixth and final seed and even that was by a margin of just one game. Then they enjoyed a sizzling October in which they won three straight series against higher seeds before coming up short in the World Series.

If the Phillies have experienced a fall, it isn’t from the top rung of the ladder. As of Wednesday morning their record was 29-32. They were in fourth place, seven and a half games behind the leader. After 61 games last year their record was 31-30. They were in third place, eight and a half games behind. That isn’t a huge difference.

What is different is how they got there. This team has some significant problems, and at least some of them will need to be addressed.

Problem: Designated hitter Bryce Harper was the heart and soul of last year’s team, but off-season surgery kept him on the sidelines until May 2 and limited his productivity after his return. He has now appeared in only 30 games, stroked only three homers and driven in only nine runs.

Solution: Let the problem cure itself. Harper is too good — and too expensive — to replace. He will probably become more productive as he continues to recover from surgery, but if he doesn’t there isn’t much anybody can do about it.

Problem: First baseman Rhys Hoskins suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the final week of spring training and was lost for the season. As a result, first base has resembled the Grand Canyon on the Phillies’ lineup card. Four people have played the position, but none productively.

Solution: The Phillies will probably try very hard to acquire a first baseman before the July 31 trading deadline. If that fails they might consider putting Harper at that position.

Problem: Left fielder Kyle Schwarber led the NL in home runs last year but got off to a miserable start this season. As of June 1 his batting average was .160 and his OPS was .699.

Solution: Perhaps none is needed. Thompson has stubbornly started Schwarber in every game this season and always placed him in one of the top five spots in the batting order. Perhaps his approach is beginning to pay off. Schwarber has six hits and three walks in his last five games, and three of those hits have been home runs. His average has soared all the way up to .173.

Problem: Prize free agent Trea Turner has been disappointing. A lifetime .302 hitter, he has batted only .240 as a Phillie. He averaged 29 stolen bases a year in his first eight seasons, but, despite this year’s favorable new rules package, has pilfered only eight.

Solution: The Phillies have no choice but to exercise patience. Turner signed an 11-year deal worth $300 million. He will either adjust to his new surroundings or become the Phillies’ biggest free agent bust since Lance Parrish.

Problem: The starting pitching has been iffy. Aaron Nola’s earned run average (4.30) is more than a full run higher than last year. He has allowed 21 walks after giving up only 29 all of last season. Still Nola has been a horse (81 2/3 innings pitched) and remains the team’s ace. The rest of the staff is very thin.

Solution: An attempt must be made to acquire at least one, and preferably two, pitchers from the trading market, but that won’t be easy. A number of teams will be looking for pitching, which means the sellers will be in position to extract a formidable return. The Phillies might not be able to negotiate a swap that makes sense. Realistically, they probably won’t be able to swing any deal before mid-July, and by then the whole picture might be considerably different.

The whole picture?

The whole picture looks mediocre — just like the ball team. If they want to return to the postseason, the Phillies must somehow get to mediocre-plus. Last year they reached the playoffs with 87 wins, and that appears to be an attainable goal for this year as well.

From the Phillies’ perspective, that’s the good news. The bad news is that would be an attainable goal for a number of other teams, and some of them probably have a better chance to do it than the Phillies have. Baseball-Reference, for example, rates the Phillies’ chances of returning to postseason to be slightly less than one in five.

Probably at this time last year the odds were similar. Then lightning struck.

Perhaps it will strike the same target two years in a row.

A FEW STATISTICS (Wednesday’s games not included): Aaron Judge of the Yankees has hit 19 homers. Eighteen have come in games won by his team … Luis Arraez of the Marlins raised his batting average to .401 this week. Sixty-eight of his 85 hits have been singles. He has only one home run … Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers batted exactly .400 during the month of May … Alek Manoa of the Blue Jays was optioned to the minor leagues this week. In his last five starts he pitched only 17 innings but still managed to issue 17 walks … The Guardians have won 27 games. Emmanuel Clase has saved 19 of them … Last Saturday the White Sox defeated the Tigers, 2-1, in 10 innings.  All three of the game’s runs scored on wild pitches … Shane McClanahan of the Rays has made 13 starts. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of them … The Braves are 20-10 on the road but only 16-14 at home … Noah Syndergaard of the Dodgers has allowed 16 stolen bases in 52 2/3 innings … The Red Sox and the Athletics are the only teams that have not shut out an opponent … The AL holds a 139-132 edge in interleague play … The Astros’ team ERA is 3.25. That’s 23 points better than the second-best team … Taijaun Walker of the Phillies has accumulated a 3-0 record with a 1.69 ERA in three Sunday starts. In 10 other starts he’s 2-3 with a 6.15 ERA.

Former Hall of Fame voter Jay Dunn has written baseball for The – for 55 years. Contact him at jaydunn8@aol.com

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