Thursday, April 24, 2014
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How did we end up here?

BALTIMORE - The Phillies, owners of a 28-31 record, have not been this bad through 59 games since 2002 when a Larry Bowa-managed team was 25-34.

How did we end up here?

Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies front office did little to try and improve the team´s offense this offseason. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)
Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies front office did little to try and improve the team's offense this offseason. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

BALTIMORE — The Phillies, owners of a 28-31 record, have not been this bad through 59 games since 2002 when a Larry Bowa-managed team was 25-34. Terry Adams and Joe Roa combined to make 30 starts that season, Travis Lee ran off the field with one out left in the season, and the Phillies finished under .500.

Charlie Manuel reached a clear point of frustration Thursday when his painfully average roster punted away another one to make it a six-game losing streak. The Phillies are 12-19 at Citizens Bank Park and maybe this road trip comes at an opportune time.

Or maybe none of it matters. Manuel is the source of consternation for a whole lot of angry Phillies fans, and that's understandable. He's the public face of the franchise. He's the one who has to answer the same questions about unacceptable baseball on a daily basis. He's the one who makes the lineups, the substitutions, and guides the players.

But it's quite difficult to say this is on the manager, who has done just about all he can with the roster he's been handed. The Phillies have used 48 different lineups in those 59 games. There is only so much lipstick that can be applied to this pig.

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The players are certainly to blame. They have pressed in important situations. They have not stayed healthy. They have made mental errors, physical errors and just plain errors.

But we'll focus on the general manager, who made three assumptions in the winter that have been exposed in the season's first 59 games. Ruben Amaro Jr. did not cause this start. He failed to prevent it, though.

1. It was impossible to assume a repeat performance from the pitching staff.

Would you believe the Phillies rank 12th in the majors with a 3.87 ERA? That figure is just .07 below the major-league average of 3.95. In 2011, the Phillies led the majors with a 3.02 team ERA, which was 92 points below baseball's average.

The Phillies allowed 3.27 runs per game in 2001, the franchise's lowest clip since 1917. They led the National League in ERA for the first time since 1952. The team ERA of 3.02 was the lowest for any team since the 1989 Dodgers, who had a 2.95 mark.

There was no way they could repeat that in 2012.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels each made at least 31 starts. Roy Oswalt was in and out of the rotation, but still started 23 times, which is probably more than Halladay will reach in 2012. Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick were extraordinary replacements. The bullpen was eighth in the majors with a 3.45 ERA and that was product of some luck.

Half of the pitchers who started a game in baseball last season spent time on the disabled list. The Phillies avoided it with the big horses in their staff a season ago. That was not replicated in 2012. And it was silly to think it could be.

Pitching coach Rich Dubee said something interesting the other day. He was answering questions about Halladay's shoulder and hopped on a tangent.

"The expectations that people put on our rotation last year were outrageous, but we pitched beyond those," Dubee said. "Look at the years those guys had, they pitched above and beyond those expectations, which is phenomenal."

Absent the hype of Four Aces, the expectations were the same for 2012 — even in the front office, because little was done to improve the offense.

2. Their faith in John Mayberry Jr.'s ability to be an everyday player was misplaced.

This one was easy to foresee. From a Feb. 18 story:

There are reasons Mayberry is 28 and has never served as an everyday player in the majors. His inability to recognize breaking balls is one. His lack of consistent production against righthanded pitchers is another.

That's not to say Mayberry can't duplicate Werth's career arc. But his 2011 numbers warrant a more critical eye, especially since they are a chief reason the Phillies have faith in his skill.

Of Mayberry's 296 plate appearances, 40.5 percent came against lefthanders. Predictably, the righthanded Mayberry hit them quite well. Eight of his 15 home runs were off lefties, and his strikeout rate was a tenable 15 percent.

If Mayberry is to receive increased playing time in 2012, his platoon split will not be as favorable. Last season, hitters faced lefthanded pitchers in 26.7 percent of total plate appearances in all of baseball. The more Mayberry plays, the closer his platoon split should be to the major-league average.

Against righthanders, Mayberry wasn't terrible by any means. He hit .250 (opposed to .306 vs. lefties) and still managed a .785 OPS. But he struck out 21 percent when facing righties, and 61.9 percent of his batted balls were on the ground or infield pop-ups. That figure against lefties was 42.8 percent.

The results: Mayberry has been one of the least productive players in baseball with his amount of playing time. His numbers against righthanded pitchers are unsightly; a .198/.261/.235 slash line in 88 plate appearances.

He's on the bench for Juan Pierre, and left field went from being a spot the Phillies projected 25 home runs to a spot for a slap hitter with 16 home runs in 13 seasons.

3. Relying on Chad Qualls and Jose Contreras as setup men was a fool's errand.

It's hard to completely blame this situation on Amaro. The Phillies believed they had depth in Mike Stutes, David Herndon, Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus. All four have spent time on the disabled list and three of them may not throw a pitch again this season. Contreras, 40, was returning from elbow surgery. It was difficult to assume production from him. He lasted less than two months before Tommy John surgery robbed him of another season.

So that leaves Qualls. Not only is he still on the roster, but he's still their best righthanded setup option.

Qualls' strikeout and walk rate are about the same as a season ago when he displayed some alarming tendencies. His sinker is not sinking and it's flying out of the ballpark at a prodigious rate. The opposition is making better contact against him. It's been that way for nearly the entire season.

Yet the Phillies are stuck with him because it's either Chad Qualls or Michael Schwimer. And beyond that, there is no one else. Manuel has basically begged for help in a public setting and it has not arrived.


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The place for up-to-the-minute Phillies coverage from The Inquirer beat writer Matt Gelb and columnist Bob Brookover.

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