Why does this happen every June?
Since 2007 ushered in this current era of over-the-hump, successful Phillie-dom, the inaugural summer month has been one to forget.
In ’07, they entered the month two games under .500 and left one game over. But they floundered in the middle of the month and spent the last three days of June getting beat by the Mets.
Last season, the Phillies suffered their only sub-.500 month in June, going 12-15 and struggling to do anything offensively after a 20-2 victory in St. Louis on June 13.
This June? How about four straight wins followed by back-to-back crushing blown saves that possibly derailed the Phillies from running away with the NL East very early in the season. Due to poor play and devastating injuries, the Mets could have been deemed irrelevant had the Phillies not slowed down to take a detour.
Obviously, the one commonality every June is interleague play.
We all know the Phillies have struggled in recent years when facing the junior circuit. But do we really know just how awful they have been?
Excluding the series at Yankee Stadium in May, the Phillies are 1-8 against the AL, averaging four runs a game while giving up close to seven.
Their team batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage in June are all lower than April and May, and the Phillies already have more strikeouts at the plate this month (142) than they did in all of April (118.)
Four regulars have compiled on-base percentages under .300 in June (Rollins, Feliz, Ruiz, Ibanez.) No Phillie has walked more than he has struck out in the month. Jimmy Rollins is hitting .205 with one stolen base and three GIDP’s.
While these may seem like cherry-picked numbers, atrocious plate discipline and lack of production from the leadoff spot have been two key factors during this pathetic run of losing winnable game after winnable game.
Let’s not place all the blame on the recent woes of the starting lineup, though, because that would be unfair to the pitching staff.
Four guys have pitched well this month: Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.C. Romero, and Chan Ho Park. That’s it. Hamels and Blanton have been the only starters to man the mound past the sixth inning twice in June.
Romero continues to get himself in and out of jams with consistency and Park has finally gotten accustomed to the bullpen by using his plethora of movement to confuse hitters.
But the compliments end there.
J.A. Happ is starting to look human (14 BB in his last 17 IP) and Jamie Moyer continues to show that he is just as capable of giving up six runs in three innings as he is of giving up three in six.
Antonio Bastardo followed his first poor outing with a decent one against the Orioles, mixing in more offspeed pitches and throwing many more strikes, but took the L due to a lackluster offense.
With the starting rotation struggling to get deep into games, the bullpen has been taxed. Injuries and ineffectiveness have been the results. Clay Condrey has come crashing back to Earth, which could have been expected. Chad Durbin and his middling stuff haven’t been able to secure the late-inning role vacated by Ryan Madson, who, after pitching brilliantly for the first three months of the season, has hit a snag in the closer’s role.
Why the June Swoon?
In trying to figure out why the Phillies play so poorly in June, you must first understand that all three June’s are completely independent of one another.
In 2007, the Phillies were 6-6 against the AL in June. They lost two of three to the Tigers, Indians, and the lowly Royals. But that team struggled out of the gate and sputtered until mid-August. They did not yet have the confidence or swagger of a playoff team, nor the identity that developed in the later months.
Last June, the interleague struggles were mainly offensive, as the entire lineup stopped hitting at the same time. They batted .232 for the month, a season low, with less homers and total bases than any other month. And as it usually goes, once a team starts to struggle at the plate, bad luck rears its ugly head. The Phils’ .266 BABIP in June was seventeen points lower than its season average.
This year, it’s been a combination of injuries and players regressing to their true skill set (Happ, Condrey, Durbin.) Entering June, the Phillies were the least injured team in all of baseball, with Brett Myers being the lone Phillie injured for an extended period of time and Carlos Ruiz being the only regular to take a trip to the 15-day DL.
Then June hit, and two big pieces of the bullpen went down, as did Raul Ibanez. Then Ryan Howard went down for two games of the Orioles series. When a team not known for manufacturing runs is forced to play without its two biggest power threats, the results are not pretty. Since Ibanez went down, the Phillies are 0-4 with a .223 BA and .297 OBP.
But the Phils haven’t been merely beating themselves, they’ve been facing viable competition.
To the common observer, the Blue Jays and Orioles are inferior to the Phillies. The Jays lack a big-time power threat and have been ravaged by injuries to the starting rotation. The Orioles have the third-worst ERA in baseball and only Texas, Washington, and Pittsburgh have struck out fewer batters.
But the flaws of these teams are enhanced by the fact that the Blue Jays and Orioles play in the best division of the superior league. The Orioles have already faced the Yankees nine times this season. Think their high ERA/low strikeout numbers have anything to do with that? Think those numbers would look any different if they played four series’ with the Nationals?
On its standings page, Baseball Prospectus features a stat called Hit-List Rank, which ranks teams 1-30 based on a combination of three different Pythagorean formulas that help to determine the overall quality of a team:
- Runs scored vs. runs allowed
- Equivalent Runs scored vs. allowed (this takes stats such as hits, walks, total bases, stolen bases, etc. to determine how many runs scored and allowed a team SHOULD have.) This also factors in the dimensions of stadiums and league scoring levels.
- Adjusted Equivalent Runs scored vs. allowed (this is the same as #2, except it includes strength of schedule.)
The Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, and Yankees rank 2, 3, 4, and 5 respectively. Enough said.
Last year, the blame was on the Phillies. They couldn’t hit and lost two of three to the A’s and Rangers, teams they were clearly superior to.
This June, it was moreso the timing of injuries and unsustainable effectiveness of members of the pitching staff.
Or just blame it on the AL East.