MINUTES BEFORE the Phillies took the field last night for the second of three games with the Seattle Mariners, a question popped up on a television screen in the press box. During the pregame show, a baseball analyst was asked to predict the makeup of the 2015 Phillies outfield.
The TV was muted. But the quizzical look on the analyst, former Phillies reliever Ricky Bottalico, told you everything you needed to know.
It's, well, uncertain. And the reason for that uncertainty was on display in the Phillies' 5-2 loss to visiting Seattle that unfolded last night.
"We didn't have a whole lot of baserunners throughout the game," said manager Ryne Sandberg, whose team was on the verge of being shut out for the 14th time this year before scoring twice in the ninth. Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma retired the final 11 batters he faced in eight shutout innings before turning the ball over to an uncertain Mariners bullpen.
Entering the ninth, the outfield trio of Marlon Byrd, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere was a combined 0-for-10 with six strikeouts, with zero balls hit out of the infield against Iwakuma. Both Byrd and Brown had two-out hits in the last-gasp, too-little and too-late rally in the ninth.
Byrd, who has pretty much been an all-or-nothing player in his return to the Phillies this season, was a whole lot of nothing last night, whiffing in three at-bats before Seattle shortstop Brad Miller ole'd a ground ball in the ninth. The veteran rightfielder, who turns 37 before the end of the month, trails only B.J. Upton in strikeouts among major league players.
Brown grounded out to first and struck out twice before punching an RBI double to right-center in the ninth. The 2013 All-Star's .615 OPS ranks 145th of the 151 big-leaguers who qualify.
Revere's scalding bat was held hitless.
While it may be difficult to criticize the guy who entered the game second in the National League in hitting (.315), Revere (.697 OPS) is the only player among baseball's top 60 hitters who sports a sub-.700 OPS. When he's not finding the holes in the infield for a single or three, Revere's inability to walk or collect extra-base hits renders him a highly flawed offensive player.
Sandberg has been employing a day-by-day approach in putting together his outfield, with Grady Sizemore and Darin Ruf also in the mix for playing time. But, with the exception of the streaky Revere, the carousel of outfielders produced little positive progress.
Sandberg was asked how important it would be to find some stability and consistency from his outfielders in 2015.
"Consistent offense through the lineup, that's important," the first-year manager said. "On a night like tonight, it was a pitcher we haven't seen and he was really a master at mixing speeds. He was throwing a curveball three different speeds. As far as going forward, consistent offense is important."
Iwakuma is undoubtedly a very good pitcher; he has a 2.57 ERA in 21 starts this season and a 2.76 ERA in his first three big-league seasons. But the Phillies only faced him one night, not in any of the 125 games that preceded last night.
In the season as a whole, Phillies leftfielders rank 28th in baseball with a .618 OPS. Their centerfielders have a .699 OPS (17th in baseball), but have 23 extra-base hits (29th) and 25 walks (28th).
Powered mostly by Byrd, Phils righthanders have hit 25 home runs (second in baseball), but have a middle-of-the-pack .320 OBP (15th) and have 149 strikeouts (third most) in 126 games.
A.J. Burnett attempted to keep the Phillies' sluggish offense in the game for as long as he could, pitching into the eighth inning last night. But his own flaws did him in, too.
Burnett, the major league leader in walks, threw eight straight pitches out of the strike zone to begin his night. Both walks came around to score, giving the Mariners a 2-0 lead before the Phillies' first at-bat.
In his final inning, Burnett put two more Mariners on base, with a hit batter and a walk, and both of those baserunners came around to score, too. The Phillies have lost seven straight games Burnett has started (and 10 of 11 since June 25).
Burnett has a 5.23 ERA in 20 starts since May 8.
By making his 27th start of the season, the 37-year-old Burnett's player option for 2015 increased from $8.5 to $10 million. It increases again to $11.75 if he makes 30 starts, and to $12.75 if he reaches 32 games started this season.
Burnett may have made all of those proposed dollar figures moot, however. When asked if he thought he'd pitch next season, Burnett, who mulled retirement last winter, said, he was leaning toward calling it a career.
"Probably not," Burnett said. "But we'll see."