Phillies Nuggets: It’s turning into one of those months for Odubel Herrera

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

On Saturday's pregame show on NBC Sports Philadelphia, Ricky Bottalico opined that Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera has looked tired at the plate since his 45-game on-base streak was snapped in St. Louis on May 20. That's a new angle than what we're used to hearing when Herrera goes into a slump. There's so many moving parts to Herrera's batting stance, that often it's just assumed that his timing is a mess when he goes into a slump. And that's not wrong. But his hands did look pretty slow in his three strikeouts in Saturday afternoon's 12-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. 

In any event, it's turning into one of those months for Herrera. For as good as his highs have been at the plate, his lows have often been very low. In May of 2015, his second month in the majors, Herrera slashed .202/.235/.287 with 29 strikeouts. Two years later, in May of 2017, he slashed just .183/.196/.257 with 30 strikeouts. 

The Phillies are only eight games deep into June 2018, but Herrera is slashing just .200/.250/.233 with nine strikeouts this month. 

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It was understood that Herrera wasn't going to hit at the other-wordly clip that he began the season on all year. Still, Herrera's descent the last few weeks has been rather remarkable. After a win over St. Louis on May 17, Herrera was slashing .361/.431/.558. It's June 10, just over three weeks later, and he's now slashing .293/.355/.444. If that slash line was what Herrera ended up posting at the end of the season, it would be a pretty damn good one – his slash line in 2017 was .281/.325/.452. But Herrera's batting average has dropped a very not nice 68 points in less than a month. Over the course of an 162-game season, things even out. But they shouldn't even out over the course of 21 games. 

Perhaps the worst part about Herrera's cold streak is the timing of it. Cesar Hernandez, who had an impressive first two months, is also hitting just .222 through the first eight games of June. Though he returned with a three-run home run Saturday, Rhys Hoskins missed nine games and had batted just .161 in May. Beyond those three, the Phillies haven't gotten much offensive production in 2018. It was unfair to expect Herrera to make up for the lack of consistent production in the Phillies lineup all year, but this has been the least ideal period for him to go into a slump. 

During Herrera's worst months, the Phillies have also struggled mightily. In May of 2015, the team went 11-18. In May of 2017, the Phillies went 6-22. Of course, both of those teams were bad teams – they each ended up with top five picks. This Phillies team is significantly more talented than either of the aforementioned ones. But since Herrera's 45-game on-base streak was snapped on May 20, the Phillies are 6-12. They are 1-7 in June. 

In May of 2015, the Phillies really couldn't afford to give Herrera a mental break for two or three days. The other outfielders at Ryne Sandberg's disposal were Ben Revere, Cody Asche, Jeff Francoeur, Grady Sizemore and Darin Ruf. Domonic Brown was on the disabled list. None of those outfielders have appeared in a major league game in 2018. In May of 2017, neither Nick Williams or Rhys Hoskins had reached the major league level. Aaron Altherr was locked into a corner outfield spot. Michael Saunders was in the midst of a brutal 200 at-bat stint in Philadelphia, one that would conclude with his release in late June. Howie Kendrick was on the disabled list. Daniel Nava also spent time on the disabled list. Taking Herrera out of the lineup in May of 2017 simply wasn't a real option for Pete Mackanin. 

Many felt that Matt Klentak's signing of Carlos Santana this offseason – which pushed Rhys Hoskins to left field – created an issue for the Phillies, as they would have four starting-caliber outfielders and only three positions to play them at. At the beginning of the season, I wrote that with two outfielders who had experience in center field – Altherr and Williams – the Phillies wouldn't have to ride out Herrera's cold streaks as they had done in previous seasons. At that time, no one expected that Williams would be hitting .226, with nearly all of his offensive damage having come as a pinch-hitter. Altherr is hitting just .184. Hoskins' disabled list stint, though it proved to be a short one, compounded the issue. 

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So if Herrera is tired – as Bottalico (and one's eyes) suggests he is – the Phillies are again without a realistic option to give him a mental break for a few days. 

The good news for the Phillies is that Herrera has traditionally responded very well after month-long slumps. In June of 2015, he hit .261, breaking out of his prolonged slump before hitting .362 in July and .333 in August, respectively. In June of 2017, he roared back after the worst month of his career, hitting .321 with 13 doubles. He would go on to slash .323/.378/.551 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs after the All-Star Break in 2017. 

Perhaps another on-base streak is on the horizon for Herrera. In the meantime, the Phillies need someone (or multiple someones) to pick up Herrera, or the Phillies are at risk of falling out of the postseason race. 

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