Going into the 2016 campaign, the Phillies and their fans knew it would be another tough season, beginning with spring training working to field a team just capable of holding down the fort until the future is recalled. With a couple of promising arms in Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez joining the rotation, and budding superstar Maikel Franco heading the team, all it wanted was two things: improvement and continued youth. As the season’s first full week comes to a close, let’s take a look at how the Phillies season’s worked out thus far.
@ Cincinnati Reds (0-3)
It all began on April 4, when the Phillies took their talent to Great American Ballpark to face off against the Cincinnati Reds. Unless you were a Phillies or Reds fan, the matchup was less than enticing, as it featured the two worst teams of 2015. The series was marred by blow ups from the bullpen, and offensive struggles.
Game 1: Following pre-game festivities for the Reds, everything started well: Hellickson pitched a quality game with 6IP, 1R (unearned) with 6Ks, 0BB, and had a two-run lead when he exited. Jeanmar Gomez held down the lead, until David Hernandez and James Russell entered, combining for five earned runs on three walks, and zero strikeouts. Hector Neris cleaned up the mess, but the damage was done, and the Phillies dropped their opener.
Game 2: Maikel Franco again gave the Phils an early lead with his two-run home run in the first off Brandon Finnegan. The game was a pitcher’s duel, as Aaron Nola made his season debut- 7IP, 1R, 4H, and 8 Ks- yet another strong outing was wasted. It was just a new man, same story. Dalier Hinojosa blows the save, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits.
Game 3: Though the Phillies offense was powered by three homers by Hunter (first career), Howard, and Ruiz, the series finale was different, this time the starting pitcher getting roughed around. Charlie Morton, 3.2IP, 6ER, 2BB, 3K, never got going, and if that was not enough rookie Daniel Stumpf served up a grand slam. The team was headed to New York winless, without answers to their ‘pen. After the sweep to lowly Cincinnati, the club could only improve from here no matter where they play.
@ New York Mets (2-1)
Seeking some consistency to the offense and stability in relief pitching, the Phillies travelled to division rival New York for a three game series at Citi Field before returning home. By the end of the weekend, the Phils had momentum going into a home stand.
Game 1: It was the Mets’ time to celebrate Opening Day. The bullpen woes continued. Eickhoff exited after trailing by one, leaving the offense to come from behind. Before any offensive charge, Russell pitches awful going 0.1IP, 4R, 2BB, 0K, making the task now five runs. All the offense collected was one run off a Cesar Hernandez single. Nevertheless, the offense sputtered, scratching across two runs on eight hits, dropping yet another game.
Game 2: Ryan Howard’s solo homer is the only offense from either side in a 1-0 game. This was a pitcher’s duel from beginning to end, with Velasquez coming out hot, 6IP, 9K, 3BB, 3H. That’s all the hits the Mets would get, as this game, the bullpen came in and closed the game out scoreless and hitless. The closing carousel continued, this time Gomez comes in and shuts the door, earning the save, locking down the first win of the season.
Game 3: Facing ace Matt Harvey, the Phillies got some change in their luck, and were able to get to him for three runs, chasing him out of the game following six innings. Hellickson had another solid start, keeping the Phillies in it from the beginning. The question was, could relief close it out once more? Yes, indeed. After tacking on two more off the Mets, Russell, Neris, and Gomez finish it. Gomez earns his second save.
vs San Diego Padres (3-1)
Following six games on the road, the Phillies finally came home to South Philadelphia, celebrating Opening Day with the Philly Phaithful. This time, the bullpen seemed to be over the early season bumps, converting during the late innings.
Game 1: After festivities of their own, the Phillies kicked off a four game set with San Diego. Aaron Nola showed some jitters playing in front of the home crowd for the first time this season, striking out nine, but allowing four runs across seven innings. The bullpen continued to play well, pitching another two scoreless innings. Phillies offense couldn’t cash in, dropping their fifth straight opening day game.
Game 2: Padres starter Robbie Erlin was hurling a no-hitter through 5.1IP before Herrera broke the scoreless tie with an RBI triple. Despite only four hits, the offense did enough. Morton, combined with Neris, Hernandez, and Gomez shut out the Padres for a victory.
Game 3: Eickhoff pitched a gem, throwing seven, four-hit innings. Franco got the Phillies on the board, and never looked back. Gomez earns save number four, and looks to be Mackanin’s unnamed closer. Offensively, five hits are all they could get, continuing the season trend of low hit totals.
Game 4: Domination. Vince Velasquez fires a historic, 3-hit complete game with an astounding 16 strikeouts, leading to a 3-0 Phillies win. That’s all to be said.
vs Washington Nationals (1-2)
Riding the extraordinary performance from young arm Velasquez, NL East foe Washington comes to town as the Phillies look to add to their three game win streak. The Nationals, Bryce Harper was the series’ MVP, with the Phillies struggling for answers.
Game 1: Hellickson’s third time around was not nearly as successful, being hit around in 3IP for 7H, 5R, allowing a leadoff homer to Michael Taylor. Oberholtzer comes in relief and allows three runs, including a 2-run home run to Bryce Harper. As been the story, the Philly bats were stifled, managing only four hits, one run.
Game 2: Rupp’s solo homer is the only offense. It was a similar story with the same result. The Phillies looked to avoid their second sweep this season.
Game 3: Gonzalez and Morton pitched to a 1-1 stalemate, before both bullpens came in and allowed runs, resulting in the first extra inning game this season. Harper gave the Nats a chance for the sweep, smacking a round tripper off Gomez in the 10th, giving Papelbon a chance for the save. Phils come out swinging, and Galvis lines an RBI single into left, giving the Phillies a walk off win in the rubber match.
Overall: 6-7, 2nd NL East
After the first week of baseball, the Phillies find themselves struggling for answers. Offensively, they have yet to reach double digit hits in their 13 games, the longest such streak in franchise history. The team average places 30th in MLB, with an abysmal .207 team average. Pete Mackanin is already looking for change, sacrificing defense for bats, opting to use Darin Ruf in left field on Saturday. Their starting pitching has been better than expected, ranking 8th overall with a 3.27 ERA, and first with 90 Ks; though better, relief has been the opposite, mightily struggling with a 5.06 ERA, ranking 26th overall. Being one game under .500 at 6-7, second in the NL East currently, it is surprising where they stand for many who expected a last place team. Though it is early still, the Phillies are lucky to be where they are with the start they have had.
For the rest of the season, the Phillies can hope the bullpen continues its recent success, and starting pitching continues to be a bright spot on the young club. Moving forward, the offense must improve upon the 2.61 runs per game, or wins will be tough to come by, relying on the pitchers game in and game out to limit the runs allowed. In a rebuilding year bound to be marred by the lowest of lows, the start can’t be what was expected from Mackanin, or the front office, who had hoped to improve from last season’s 99-loss season.
photo credit: 960theref.com