From left, Philadelphia Phillies' Edmundo Sosa, Trea Turner, Brandon Marsh, Bryson Stott, and Nick Castellanos celebrate a win after a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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After taking two of three games from the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, the Phillies once again found themselves engaged in what has become a ritualistic Dance with .500. 

They’ve teetered over and under the breakeven mark numerous times already this season, and after wins on Saturday and Sunday, are 22-24 and seek to climb back above sea level this week against the 27-20 Arizona Diamondbacks. 

Throughout the Phils’ frustrating start, three big bugaboos have shown themselves repeatedly: starting pitching problems, failure to hit with runners in scoring position, and bad defense.

  • Entering play Monday, the Phillies’ .233 batting average with runners in scoring position was 6th-lowest in baseball (the Braves are actually lower, at .231, but have 15 HRs with runners in scoring position while the Phillies have just 7). 
  • The starting rotation has an ERA of 4.87, 10th-worst in the Majors, and that’s AFTER outstanding starts from Aaron Nola and Taijuan Walker this weekend.
  • Defensively, one of the newer metrics, called “Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)” finds the Phils’ gloves have cost them 16 runs this season. Only two other teams are worse.

We tend to think of these issues as three separate problems and, to be sure, they are. To a degree. But they do not exist in a vacuum. 

The Phillies are not playing complementary baseball, which essentially means, one aspect of the team feeds into the next. When all facets are operating properly, they help the other areas work well, too.

In baseball, it all starts with the starting pitching.

Take Friday night’s 10-1 loss. 

No, please, take it away, somewhere far away and bury it into a deep hole.

The Phils scratched out an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly. It’s always nice to start things off with an early run, to give your starting pitcher some breathing room early. But Suarez, who is still building up his strength after missing the first month of the season, was blasted for four runs in the second inning.

Now, as an offense, the pressure is on to come through and get that big hit in order to get back into the game. Given their struggles in that regard this season, it would make sense for hitters to begin to panic and try to hit the 5-run homer in order to make up ground. 

And when your team is in a hole, the pressure mounts on the defense to make all the plays. Granted, the defense should make all the plays, but the point is, the pressure mounts when your starting pitcher puts you in an early hole.

On Saturday, Kyle Schwarber’s first inning grand slam allowed Aaron Nola to take an even bigger breath, and when Kody Clemens followed with a two-run homer that same inning, it’s perhaps no coincidence we saw a more confident and effective Nola when pitching with a 6-0 lead. 

Sunday, Taijuan Walker finally looked like the guy we thought we were getting when we signed him to a four-year free agent contract in the off-season and kept the Phillies in a scoreless tie through 5 ⅓ innings. Finally, Bryson Stott’s came through with a clutch two-run homer in the 7th and the Phils held on for a crisp, 2-1 victory. Walker’s effort meant the Phils could afford to be less-than-perfect with runners in scoring position and still win a baseball game. 

Imagine that! 

Complementary baseball. It’s how good teams win lots of baseball games.

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