Changes Philadelphia Phillies Must Make to Spark a Winning Streak
The Philadelphia Phillies will finish in the bottom half of the division if they continue to play disinterested and uninspired baseball.
While the team is lacking those two intangible qualities, there are plenty of areas in the physical realm of the game of baseball which are visibly lacking also.
Phillies fans shouldn't fret just yet, however.
The good news is there are 143 games left in the young season.
For this team, though, these following changes must be made sooner rather than later in order to compete in the tough National League East before they fall out of contention.
Ryan Howard Has to Find His Power Stroke
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The Philadelphia Phillies have hit 14 home runs this season, good for 22nd in Major League Baseball.
Of those 14, Ryan Howard has hit just one. That's it, just one. And just too really enforce how bad that is—catcher Erik Kratz has one more home run than Howard.
The Phillies' lineup needs Howard to shoulder the weight of being the power source, a feat he has been incapable of doing thus far.
It wouldn't matter whether the ball was going over the fence or not if he was producing runs at a consistent rate, but unfortunately he hasn't done that either. Howard only has six runs batted in to go along with that one home run.
So how can Howard address this problem and start to show some pop?
Howard is at his best when he is driving the ball to all fields. When down in the count, Howard simply needs to step out of the box, take a deep breath and, most importantly, stop swinging through that outside slider from lefties he can't seem to resist.
He also needs to show more discipline and make contact at a more consistent rate. It shouldn't be a surprise that Howard leads the Phillies in strikeouts with 16.
If Howard can take more pitches and start hitting the ball to left field, it will force oppositions to cease playing their lefty shift. This will allow Howard to have the opportunity to see pitches he actually wants to swing at, not pitches he feels like he has to swing at.
Be Patient, but Not Too Patient
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It may shock many people that Jimmy Rollins leads the Phillies in total pitches seen this season at 319. Rollins has earned a bad reputation for hacking early in counts, usually producing in a lazy fly ball.
While Rollins' approach has probably changed due to his spot in the lineup, his approach may actually be too cautious.
But he is not alone.
Baseball players are always told to wait for "their" pitch. At times, the Phillies take this advice to a different level, waiting for a pitch that is a dead-center fastball. A lot of the time, they are still waiting for it as they walk back to the dugout after a strikeout.
The Phillies' lineup is too patient. It looks as if they are too cautious to swing at the first pitch, and when they don't, it usually seems they don't see another great pitch to hit during the rest of the at-bat.
Granted, if a pitcher walks three guys in a row, the general rule is to not even think about swinging at the next first pitch, and it is common to see a lot of guys exit the box as soon as the pitch leaves his hand. This situation is understandable.
But when a lineup goes stagnant, as the Phillies' certainly has at times this season, swinging at the first pitch can produce benefits in terms of rattling a pitcher's confidence if he is cruising along.
A perfect example of this was in the Phillies' 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on April 6.
The Phillies worked the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 3-1. Then, both Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. struck out on three and four pitches, respectively. Both at-bats began with dead-red fastballs which were both called strikes.
The next batter was Kevin Frandsen. Seeing the trend of the last two batters, Frandsen locked in on a first-pitch 96 miles per hour fastball and won the game with a walk-off bases-clearing double.
Phillies hitters need to understand patience is indeed a virtue in baseball, but they are allowed to swing confidently at good first pitches.
Bullpen to Strand Inherited Baserunners
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In the most recent example possible, the Phillies' bullpen allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to take the lead in the seventh inning on Sunday night.
This time out, the pitchers to blame were Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin. Bastardo allowed two runners to reach, one on an error, and Durbin proceeded to give up a run-producing single to the first batter he faced.
Luckily, the Phillies won that game, but they may not be so lucky in the future. How can they change that luck around? By not putting themselves in those types of sticky situations in the first place, that's how.
The Phillies' bullpen has four losses registered to the unit, a sad sign that they are not getting the job done. For a team that doesn't pack a whole lot of offensive firepower, keeping games close is the main job of the bullpen.
It has occurred too many times this season already that the Phillies' starting pitching keeps it a low-scoring one- or two-run game until about the fifth or sixth inning, but they get in a jam and hand the ball over to the bullpen.
Instead of escaping the jam and keeping the team in it, the bullpen too frequently surrenders a few more runs, distancing the Phillies from any rational comeback.
If the Phillies want to stay in games and stay in the hunt later in the season, their bullpen must start leaving inherited baserunners stranded at a more consistent rate.
Find a Reliable 5th Starter
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The term reliable may be the wrong word when it comes to the Phillies finding yet another fifth starter to fill out their rotation, as John Lannan is on the disabled list, out six to eight weeks, with a quad strain near his knee.
Perhaps Pettibone could be the next Kyle Kendrick and fill in admirably as a decent fifth starter, which is all that will be asked of him. This does seem unlikely, though, based on the season he is having at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Pettibone, a right-hander, is sporting a 9.64 ERA after a couple of starts with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
So what if Pettibone can't get the job done? Who is next in line?
Those questions remain to be seen, but there are inevitably a couple of choices.
There are other pitchers in the IronPigs organization who may be given a shot to prove themselves at the highest level.
Tyler Cloyd (7.07 ERA this season), Ethan Martin (8.10 ERA) and Adam Morgan (1.42 ERA) would probably be next in line if the decision was to keep picking from the shallow pitching pool that is the minor leagues.
The other option would be to trade for or sign a pitcher with similar attributes to John Lannan. Said pitcher will probably be an average-at-best pitcher who has been in the league for a while but has the ability to keep the team in the game every night he takes the mound.
Hopefully for the Phillies, the fifth spot in the rotation is not a revolving door with overly shaky hinges.
The Return of Carlos Ruiz
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Carlos Ruiz's suspension consists of just sitting out six more games, which will feel like an eternity to both the Phillies fans and players.
Although Ruiz is day-to-day after getting hit on his wrist with a pitch in an extended spring training game, you can bet he won't let a little nagging injury delay his return to the Phillies.
And the Phillies' lineup and pitching staff will welcome him back with open arms.
Erik Kratz, his main replacement to start the year, has just not done the job at the plate in Ruiz's absence. Kratz is batting just .214 on the year with seven runs batted in, three of which came on one swing on Sunday night against the Cardinals.
Kratz is also tied for third on the team in strikeouts with 13, something Carlos Ruiz is extremely good at staying away from. Part of the reason that Ruiz's batting average was high last year was a result of his ability to make contact and put the ball in play.
Another aspect that comes along with the return of Ruiz's return is the overlooked aspect of his skill to control the game behind the plate.
The Phillies' pitching staff inevitably trusts Ruiz to make the right decisions and allow them to feel comfortable when calling their pitches.
The return of Carlos Ruiz might very well be the spark this stagnant Philadelphia Phillies team needs.
And it can't come soon enough.