If B. Franklin was still dispensing wisdom locally, he might be inclined to update one of his most famous maxims: The only certain things in this world are death, taxes and that the Phillies will make a move before the trade deadline this year.
Now it’s up to general manager Dave Dombrowski to work out the details and that’s where it gets tricky.
Even the basic question of whether the Phils should prioritize hitting or pitching has no obvious answer. And with the August 1 cutoff date looming like a gathering storm, the urgency to decide will only increase as the clock tick, tick, ticks down.
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The degree of difficulty is increased by the reality that Dombrowski doesn’t have an unlimited amount of bullets. Especially with No. 1 prospect Andrew Painter all but certainly headed for Tommy John surgery, it seems likely he has enough resources for one major move, but not two.
So what’s it gonna be?
Asking that question after the Phillies second straight loss to the Brewers, 4-0, Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, may not be the best timing.
They got only two singles against starter Corbin Burnes. They struck out 13 times. They got a runner past first base just twice. . .and one of those was on defensive indifference with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
“It’s tough to hit good pitching,” manager Rob Thomson said. “Sometimes you just have to give credit and move on.”
Burnes is good. He won the Cy Young Award two years ago. He’s made three straight All-Star teams. But the Phillies have a lineup packed with big money, in their prime stars (Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber) and good, you up-and-coming hitters (Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh).
Despite that, they’ve scored three or fewer runs 45 times in 96 games this season and been shut out seven times. Not all those pitchers have been aces. The Phillies run differential is just +7.
So maybe adding a bat is the way to go.
On the other hand. . .
While there are no flashing red alarms over the rotation, there are a few troubling statistical anomalies that could convince the big cigars to consider bolstering the pitching instead.
None more so than Taijuan Walker, who took the loss Thursday.
Yes, he was one of the Phillies best starters in the first half. Especially after getting off to a sluggish beginning, when he posted a 2.79 earned run average in his last dozen outings.
That’s great as far as it goes. The issue is that last year he was 7-2, 2.55 at the break. . .and 5-3, 4.80 after. In 2021 the falloff was even more breathtaking, from 7-3, 2.66 to 0-8, 7.13. His career ERA in the first half is almost a full run lower in the first half (3.58 to 4.56).
How well he pitched Thursday, like a Rorschach Test, is in the eye of the beholder. A glance at the box score would suggest that he was only so-so: 6 innings, 6 hits, 4 earned runs.
Anybody who witnessed his 102 pitches probably would have been left with a different impression. He was dominant at times, but fell victim to Aaron Nola Syndrome. Which is to say that one bad inning undid his positives.
He was also nicked by a line drive off the bat of Brewers third baseman Andruw Monasterio in the seventh, although he insisted he survived unscathed.
“It got the glove and a little bit of the finger, but everything’s good,” he said. “I felt good. It was just the one bad inning that cost us.”
Speaking of Nola, as much as he doesn’t like to talk about it, the reality is that over the course of his career he hasn’t been as successful in September/October, when his career ERA is 4.26, as he is earlier in the season (3.55 from March through August).
Zack Wheeler, who had an ERA under 3.00 in his first three years with the Phillies, is currently sitting at 4.04.
So maybe pitching is the answer.
In the end, it might just come down to the best deal that presents itself. You can increase your chances of winning by scoring more runs or by holding the other team to fewer runs, after all.
Of course, there’s one deal that would solve both problems at once. But the Phillies don’t really have what it takes to pry Shohei Ohtani away from the Angels.
Or do they?