It is time for a pop quiz! When the Philadelphia Phillies were swept by the Milwaukee Brewers, what was the main reason they lost?
A.) A lack of offense
B.) Bullpen problems
C.) All of the above
D.) The Phanatic’s attempt to jinx the other team backfired.
Anyone who has watched the Phillies the past few years knows that C is the obvious answer to this question. The same thing that has plagued the Phillies for the past two seasons once again remains an issue for the team.
The bullpen overall has been up and down during the first month of the season, and part of the blame could be placed on the starting rotation. The starters have had issues of their own, failing to go far in games this season. It leads to the bullpen being overworked and some of its pitchers having to pitch in different roles. A recent example was last week, when Jake Diekman had to try to close the game against the Braves since Jonathan Papelbon had pitched three straight days. Diekman struggled and blew the save opportunity, resulting in a Phillies loss. The good news about the bullpen is that the most important pitcher, the closer, has been on a hot streak. Since Papelbon had an ugly blown save against the Texas Rangers a few weeks ago, he has since pitched five straight scoreless innings. He seems to have settled down since, possibly adjusting better to his loss of velocity. Another explanation could be Papelbon was possibly injured near the start of the season, and has since healed from whatever mild injury was throwing him off.
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However, the bigger problem for the Phillies is the lack offense. While the Phillies are hitting well, they are not hitting with men on base. They rank in the top ten in team average and on base percentage, but are 22nd in the majors in runs scored. A great example of their struggles was last week, when they wasted a fantastic game by Cliff Lee, getting shutout 1-0 against the Braves. The game before the Phillies looked like the division winning teams of a few years ago. They looked like a team that should not be counted out regardless of the deficit, but then reverted to their offensive futility the very next game.
In this young season, there are still quite a few reasons to remain optimistic. The main reason for this is “the man” Chase Utley. Utley has been one of the league’s hottest hitters, looking like the perennial all-star he was before his knees starting giving him issues. Meanwhile, Ryan Howard looks like a shell of his former self. This is thanks to the major injuries he suffered in 2011 and 2013, which it could be argued he is still working his way back to form. Phillies commentator Matt Stairs believes that in about 30 more at bats, Howard should be closer to 100 percent. If Howard is able to return to form, then it could have a positive effect throughout the lineup. The Phillies need this to happen sooner rather than later, as Utley and Howard playing at all-star levels will strike fear into opposing pitchers once again.
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