By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—You would like to think that because it’s only June that there is plenty of time for the last-place Phillies, who are now six and one-half games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves, to right their ship and back into contention.
Considering that the Phillies (24-31) lost four out of five games to a New York Mets squad that is quite frankly just as bad as they are, you gotta have a lot of faith to think the Phils can turn it around. I mean a whole lot of faith to believe this team can get it together.
“We have to get better at everything. That’s the whole goal,” said Phillies second baseman Chase Utley in a rare post-game interview with reporters. “I don’t think there’s any one thing missing. We have to hit better and we have to play better defense.”
Looking at the way they are playing at this point in the season, it might be an accomplishment if they can just get to .500. The playoffs, even in the era of two wildcard teams, are way out of the question. The July 31st trade deadline is looking more and more like a fire sale.
Monday’s 11-2 loss to the Mets was a combination of bad pitching, a lack of offense, poor defense and a horrific night by the bullpen. It was a microcosm of a bad season by a lackluster team.
“I would say that we’ve showed signs of fundamental baseball,” said manager Ryne Sandberg. “We’ve played better defense than we did in this series. It’s just putting together the pitching, the defense, executing throughout the game and having some timely hits and getting some better run support. Putting it all together or more parts of the game together.”
The starting pitching, which has had some good moments this season, fell completely apart in the series finale against the Mets. Starter pitcher Roberto Hernandez, who has pitched well in his starts throughout the season, had a bad night or more accurately one bad inning.
For the game, Hernandez (2-2) gave up five runs, four came in the sixth inning when the Mets sent 10 men to the plate a pair of RBI doubles by David Wright and Willmer Flores put the Phillies in a 5-0 hole from which they never recovered.
The Phillies had a chance to minimize the damage in that inning when Mets first baseman Lucas Duda hit a routine ground ball to Utley who mishandled a ball that should have led to an inning-ending double-play. Instead, it loaded the bases and Flores got the double to break the game open.
On offense, the Phillies scored their runs on an RBI groundout by Ryan Howard that scored Cesar Hernandez in the sixth and a wild pitch by Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia that scored centerfielder Ben Revere from third in the eighth.
In both of those innings, the Phillies had the first two men reach with nobody out and got just two runs out of it. They were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. If there is anything that’s been consistent about this team is its futility with runners in scoring position.
The bullpen, which came into the game with a 1.60 earned run average since May 22, gave up six runs in the ninth inning, including a grand-slam home run to Flores, who had not hit a home run all year for the Mets. That sent the fans, some of whom were doing Eagles and Flyers chants, rushing to the exits.
The Phllies finished the homestand with just four wins in 11 games. They are 12-19 at home for the season. Teams that contend don’t struggle at home. The 2014 Phillies should never be confused with a team that is contending for anything.
When you look at their starting lineup, you have guys who are capable of hitting and yet they don’t do it on a consistent basis. Ryan Howard is either feast or famine. He was 8-for-45 during the homestand, but also had four home runs and 15 runs batted in.
You also have guys like Marlon Byrd, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, who are not having bad years individually. But they haven’t come through in clutch situations with any kind of consistency. Domonic Brown, who was an All-Star last season, is only hitting .206 with just four home runs and 27 runs batted in.
Yet, Sandberg believes his squad is still capable of being a good team that can put together some wins to get back in the pennant race.
“We showed better baseball than what we’ve played overall and I believe the core group is there,” Sandberg said.