Home plate umpire Ángel Hernández was a major factor in the Phillies’ 1-0 loss to the Brewers Sunday night, as he consistently widened the strike zone for both teams. In fact, Hernández’s inconsistency was a major talking point for the ESPN broadcast booth during the nationally televised game. Things came to a head in the bottom of the ninth when Kyle Schwarber vented all the anger of a 28-man roster on Hernández after being rung up on a questionable call. In a game that was scoreless until the ninth inning, it’s clear that the incompetence of Ángel Hernández played a key role in the outcome of the game. However, the Phillies still have no one but themselves to blame for their early season woes.
President of Baseball Operations David Dombrowski made a clear statement with his splashy offseason signings of Schwarber and Nick Castellanos: the Phillies were going to win with offense. Opening Day played out exactly like we thought it would, as the new-look Phils pummeled the Oakland A’s 9-5. That has been the highwater mark for the team thus far, as in the weeks that have followed their hitting has completely fallen off. Despite blasting a leadoff dinger on Opening Day, Schwarber has struggled mightily to the tune of a .169/.246/.407 slash line. Reigning MVP Bryce Harper has been good-not-great, posting a .226/.300/.419 line while battling an elbow injury. Rhys Hoskins, Matt Vierling and uber-prospect Bryson Stott have all failed to hit above the Mendoza line thus far. For a team that was supposed to possess overwhelming firepower, they’ve had a very hard time achieving liftoff.
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This isn’t to say that there aren’t bright spots. Castellanos has done all that was expected of him. J.T. Realmuto is in his usual All-Star-caliber form. Alec Bohm, despite some serious defensive struggles, has been arguably the best hitter on the team. But, a handful of good offensive performances haven’t been enough to save the Phillies from sliding all the way down to fourth place in the National League East. The simple answer is the Phillies need to hit better.
The pitching staff has struggled mightily, as was expected. Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson are the only starters with sub-4.00 ERAs, while new additions Corey Knebel and Brad Hand have been the only reliable arms out of the bullpen. But these problems aren’t surprises. This team was designed to be able to out hit opponents, not dominate them from the mound. The pitching staff has been largely what we expected. Sure, there are areas for improvement. Zack Wheeler, Ranger Suárez and Zach Eflin are all coming off of unusual spring trainings, and are trying to get their sea legs under them. Seranthony Domínguez, José Alvarado, and Jeurys Familia should all even out a bit. However, even if all of them make significant improvements, offense is still how the Phillies should be winning ball games. And it just isn’t happening.
This brings us back to last night’s fiasco. Yes, the Phillies’ loss can be, at least in part, attributed to Ángel Hernández. If this was a team that was firing on all cylinders then it would be perfectly reasonable to simply write it off as poor officiating and call it a day. But, this is a team that has looked completely helpless at the plate for long stretches thus far. To act as if Hernández stifled an otherwise impeccable Phillies offense is ludicrous. Ángel Hernández shoulders a lot of the blame for last night, but the Phillies should hold themselves accountable for a brutal April.