What did we do to deserve this type of punishment from the Baseball Gods?
Just last weekend we were tortured with a three game set between the Braves and Phillies, now here we are again. The series seven days ago was about as bad as we expected it to be. In the opener, Aaron Harang managed to confuse us all with his ongoing mastery of the game. The Braves used a late inning push to pull away in game two. And in the finale, Trevor Cahill and Jerome Williams pitched as expected and got beat around before the Phillies finally came out on top, taking game three and the series.
Not much has changed. Since the last time these two ghosts of division winners past locked up, both have managed to limp along, continuing to play sub-.500 ball. While Atlanta were dropping a crazy series to the Nationals before bouncing back with a split against the Reds, Philadelphia dropped a pair of series on the road to the Cardinals and the Marlins, looking over-matched in both.
And here we are, about to suffer through the sports equivalent of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo and Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood.
As for personnel, the Braves will look a little different this time around. Chris Johnson ended up on the disabled list this past week with a fractured hand, the bullpen has been shuffled around yet again, and highly touted prospect Mike Foltynewicz joined the club on Friday. Meanwhile, the Phillies continue to look the same, with the only change being the addition of Chad Billingsley to the rotation for Tuesday’s start.
The lineup Fredi Gonzalez trots out everyday continues to be as volatile and ever-changing as the daily results. The surprising thing is that there have been more productive pieces to the Braves lineup than not. The truly confusing thing continues to be Fredi’s insistence upon the increasingly inept Eric Young Jr. being in the lineup almost every day. EYJ has been one of the worst every day players in all of baseball, but has still found himself in the starting lineup for four of the last seven days. However, with three strong starts in those days Young sat perhaps the winds of change will bring us the more productive Cameron Maybin on a regular basis.
Somehow, AJ Pierzynski and Kelly Johnson continue to light the world on fire. The two had another phenomenal week, forcing Gonzalez’s hand to the point where he has had no choice but to continue writing each name in the lineup day to day. Throw in the emergence of Maybin, and it’s taken only a month for the everyday lineup to start looking much different than it did on opening day.
Over on the Phillies’ side, the offense continues to be absolutely abysmal. Only Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera have a wRC+ over 100. And that’s everyone, from Andres Blanco’s 20 PA to Herrera’s 98 PA. Over the past week Carlos Ruiz and Ben Revere have managed to show some signs of improvement, leading the way for what little offense the team produced on the first two legs of their road trip.
Chase Utley continues to be so bad it defies all logic and reasoning. He has been the worst hitter in the National League for the majority of the season, both at the plate and overall. It’s hard to believe anyone would have expected one of the best players of the past decade to be this bad 26 games in. Even in his injury-shortened seasons from 2010 to 2013, Utley still managed between 3.2 and 5.3 fWAR. This season he’s on the other end of that spectrum, already costing his team 1.0 wins. If the Phillies 2B is going to bounceback and avoid the worst season of his illustrious career, he’s going to have to dig himself out of one helluva hole.
With the pitching matchups coming their way, things don’t look like they are going to improve for the Phillies woeful offense.
Tonight’s match-up sees Alex Wood take the mound for the Braves against the ageless Aaron Harang. Both had their worst outing of the season their last time out by conventional stats. Wood found his strikeout groove again versus the Nationals, but still allowed five runs over six innings work, as he took his first loss of the season. His FIP and xFIP told a very different story, as much of his bad luck can be attributed to a .462 BABIP. Harang was equally bad against the Cardinals if you look at the outing on the surface, but he also ran into trouble with the batted ball.
The returning Chad Billingsley will face-off against one of the few bright spots on the Braves staff this season, newcomer Shelby Miller, for Tuesday’s matchup. Billingsley will be making his first ML start since April 15, 2013 thanks to Tommy John surgery and a torn flexor tendon last season. Miller will hope to continue rolling through hitters, but he has been getting increasingly unlucky over his past couple starts.
Wednesday’s finale will see Mike Foltynewicz going to battle with Jerome Williams. While Folty may not have been overly dominant in his 2015 debut against the Reds, he was good enough over five innings to keep his team in the game until his own double and Kelly Johnson’s homer sealed the Braves victory. Williams, meanwhile, continues to be about as typical and cliche of a back-end starter as humanly possible. He’s not good, he’s pretty bad, and that’s about all that you need to know.