Tuesday, July 13, 2021
All-Star Break is Crossroads For Phils’ Girardi
After concluding a 5-2 road trip that ended with their taking two out of three from the American League East-leading Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Phillies, despite spotty hitting and a leaky (to be nice about it) bull pen, find themselves at .500 and in second place, a manageable 3.5 games behind the division-leading Mets in the National League East, as baseball heads into its All-Star break.
The first test for Joe Girardi's team will come right after the aforementioned respite, when the Phillies host their arch-nemeses, the last-place Miami Marlins (one could say that the Marlins have been to the Philllies in recent years what the Astros were to the Mets in 1969), in a four-game series — the first four of 14 consecutive games within the division,12 of them at home (the Phillies went into the break with records of 24-16 at home and 20-28 on the road).
Girardi's future in the City of Not-So-Brotherly Love could very well hinge on the outcome of these games.
The Phillies are hitting .240 as a team, which rather surprisingly ranks seventh in the 15-team NL — cue up In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, please — and of their current starting position players only two of them are batting so much as .270 (right fielder Bryce Harper is hitting .278 and second baseman Jean Segura is hitting .322, placing him way at the top of this sorry pledge class). And despite ranking sixth in runs scored with 402, the Phillies have been held to less than three runs 29 times — not a good idea when your bull pen has so much trouble holding leads (and the Phillies space their runs very poorly: they have cracked double digits eight times).
And oh yes, about that bullpen: It is the runaway leader in blown saves, with 22; no other team in either league has more than 16. Just as in that iconic 1980s-era Pepto Bismol commercial in which Paul Revere's tendency to overeat was enough to give a patriot (small 'p') an upset stomach, these blown saves are more than enough to have the same effect on any Phillies fan.
These fans are also turning up the heat on Girardi, whose hiring 21 months ago was greeted with almost universal optimism by the city's fickle fan base, if the hometown's two sports-talk-radio stations are any guide — and the fact that the San Francisco Baseball Giants, now managed by Girardi's predecessor, Gabe Kapler — have gone into the all-star hiatus with baseball's best record, doesn't do anything to turn that heat down (and unlike the 1981 Reds, the Giants will not only make the playoffs, but will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, up to and including the World Series, if they are still in that position at the end of the season).
Better days could lie ahead, though: the Phillies have signed Ranger Suarez (Chris Berman would no doubt call him "Walker, Texas Ranger" Suarez!), who they apparently intend to use as a "closer" — the very existence of that term representing yet another example of the increased specialization of positions seen in sports today — and center fielder Odubel Herrera is eligible to be taken off the 10-day injured list on July 19 (tendinitis is in his left ankle is being blamed for his slow start this season — he was hitting .241 at the break), with third baseman Alec Bohm, who appeared in 85 of the team's 88 pre-All-Star-Break games (only first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who appeared in 87, played in more) eligible to come off the COVID-19 list the following day.
It remains largely to be seen whether or not the Phillies can end their streak of nine consecutive non-winning seasons, which includes two .500 finishes — in 2012 and 2019.
Girardi's job might hang in the balance.