Words cannot describe the disappointment that fell over Phillies fans this past weekend. The Phillies were swept out at home by the lowly Chicago Cubs, who were 20 games below .500 heading into the series. The Phillies seemingly never returned from the All-Star break, and the club has dropped to 49-46 on the season.
The Phillies always seem to play down to their competition. This was evident against the Cubs this past weekend. The Atlanta Braves, one of the hottest teams in baseball, will head to town for a three-game set Monday through Wednesday. The Phils have played the Braves tough in the past; whether or not they can bounce back against their division rival remains to be seen.
It is no secret that Nick Castellanos has struggled in his first 95 games with the Phillies. Frustrations boiled over this past weekend in a post-game interview with Castellanos and longtime NBC Sports Philadelphia reporter Jim Salisbury.
Nick has been receiving boos as he walks back to the dugout, and the fans have really started to get on his case. While his bat may not be what it has been in years past, there is one thing for certain, Nick Castellanos cares and wants to play better.
Nick has been a professional big league hitter at every stop thus far into his career. I truly do not believe that he forgot how to hit once he arrived in Philadelphia. No doubt Castellanos is going through a slump, but giving up on him after 95 games is foolish.
Nick will eventually break through, and just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it will never come. Rob Thomson moving him around the lineup and giving him some time off are two options to help him take some of the weight off of his shoulders and hopefully help him find his power stroke once more.
NL East Implications
Phillies need this series for the division race
The Phillies currently sit 9 games out of the National League East. The Atlanta Braves sit half a game behind the New York Mets for first place in the division. When Joe Girardi was fired in May, the Braves were four games behind the Phillies. While the Phils got hot, so did Atlanta, but the Braves seemingly turned the corner on their struggles.
Braves Lineup preview
Matt Olson has been the star player that the Braves were hoping for once they moved on from Freddie Freeman. Olson leads all of Major League baseball with 35 doubles, tying his career high in just 95 games played.
Rookie Michael Harris has been the best outfielder for Atlanta so far this season. While Ronald Acuna Jr has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries, Harris has picked up the slack in centerfield. The rookie is slashing .289/ .323/ .494/ .817 with 8 home runs and 28 runs batted in. Michael Harris has also shined on the basepaths. He has stolen 10 bags without being caught so far.
Since Bryce Harper went down with a broken finger, the consensus surrounding the team has been to stay in the hunt until he returns. While the Phillies are still 3 games over the .500 and just a game outside of the Wild Card, it has become more apparent that the club lacks the depth to make a deep playoff run.
The team undoubtedly misses Jean Segura and Bryce Harper anchoring their lineup. The team has been unable to stay consistent in their absence, and aside from Kyle Schwarber’s ridiculous month of June, the team has not had many guys step up to fill the void.
Darick Hall has been a nice addition in the middle of the lineup, but the young DH is not going to solve the Phillies’ problems. Alec Bohm has hit really well since May began, but his lack of power still remains.
With the Trade Deadline on August 2nd, the Phillies have to make a move. While adding a starting pitcher is the top priority, exploring the cheap bat market needs to be second on the list. Adding another piece to the lineup by the deadline would align perfectly with when Jean Segura is expected to return to playing. The Phillies are theoretically adding two All-Star caliber weapons once their stars return, but if they wish to remain in the playoff picture, they will have to make a move to awake their offense.
For now, the Phillies have to rely on their highest-paid players to get the job done. Kyle Schwarber, JT Realmuto, and Nick Castellanos need to be the leaders day in and day out. Adding Bryce and Jean back to the starting 9, with Alec Bohm, Matt Vierling, Darick Hall, and Bryson Stott returning to complementary roles, will be good enough to make a run.
The question remains whether or not they are still in this race by the time their lineup is back together again.
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Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum