Phillies Have $116 Million Problem to Start Season

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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

It was pretty widely known that the Phillies, with a lineup that appears to feature four batters who’d be best as designated hitters, were not figuring to play good defense.

The thought among many fans was that this lack of defense would not be an issue for such a high-powered offense that could hit dingers with the best of them.

The early returns during the very brief spring training and on Opening Day appeared to be just that. When the Phillies exploded for nine runs against the lone ace of the Athletic’s staff, it looked like no pitcher would have a good day against this deep lineup.

Instead, they’ve managed virtually no offense in the seven games since.

The pitching staff has a rotation made up of only one guy who was ready when spring training began and, with the owners doing everything they can to lose the sport, this year’s spring training was also shortened. It should be expected that they would start the season rough and with a lack of ability to pitch late into games.

What shouldn’t be a problem is this lineup.

Take a look at the guys making real big money on this team (>$10 million) and just three of the nine (Wheeler, Nola, Knebel) are pitchers. The other six (Harper, Realmuto, Castellanos, Schwarber, Gregorious, Segura) are batters that count for $116 million toward the cap in 2022.

Throw the next highest-paid player into that mix (Hoskins) and $124 million of the $230 tax threshold is committed to this team scoring runs in seven of the nine lineup spots.

Since failing to sweep the opening series to the lowly Athletics, whose entire team payroll ($65) is almost half of what those seven hitters are making, the Phillies have also dropped a series to the Mets and figured out a way to lose to the Marlins multiple times in a row.

Since that Opening Day, a lone explosive eighth inning against the Mets is nearly the team’s only offense.

Exclude that one inning and the offense has mustered only 15 runs across the 62 other innings in those seven games. Perhaps even worse is that the big-money offense that is supposed to hit dingers has just six homeruns in those innings, seven if you throw that eight-inning outburst in.

Six also happens to be the amount of times these same hitters have grounded into double plays. Add their 43 strikeouts since opening day and it’s easy to see why they are having difficulty getting any sort of traction to go on rallys.

The hope remains that this offense just isn’t clicking, but one inning in seven days is brutal. With all the talk about the bat of Matt Vierling, you’d think the guy leading off and making $19 million isn’t the one whose best play on the season is running just fast enough to keep a fielder’s choice from becoming yet another double play off his bat.

It is Schwarber and Harper who have particularly poor offensive numbers overall so far and really need to pick up their play to help get this team going, but Harper has at least been pretty solid with runners in scoring position (though not up to his typical standards). From that perspective, it is both Schwarber and Castellanos who have struggled, though Castellanos has worked a couple of walks in these situations. In nine chances, Schwarber has one single and three strikeouts – a real catalyst for helping out the bottom of the order that all the fans seem to have enjoyed complaining about.

Of course, it is still early on in the season and the hope is that things will heat up for the Phillies bats and that they didn’t spend $179 million in that last frenzy of free agency just so they could have the same offense with a worse defense. That said, these games now are just as important as the ones at the end of the season; the Phillies don’t have much more time that they can allow the likes of the Mets and Braves to get head starts on them in the standings.

Improvement must be seen soon or fans will once again begin to tune out of games.

The return on investment for the Phillies finally exceeding the luxury tax if that occurs will start to be negative. This is an outcome that will surely haunt Phillies fans. It will be brought up in all future situations where reporters ask the team about if they are willing to pay the tax to sign a top free agent and an excellent excuse to use for not doing so.

For both the players on the team and the fans, let’s hope that the improvement comes to fruition far sooner than the latter.