PHILADELPHIA -- There are no quick fixes or magic buttons to press. The Phillies simply have to cross their fingers and hope for the best.
It is not reassuring for a team with the third-highest payroll in baseball, but that is reality. The Phils enter Friday's series opener against the Reds at Citizens Bank Park with a 17-21 record and in last place in the National League East. They have lost seven of their last nine games, which includes three shutout losses. They have been inconsistent in every facet of the game, which explains why only the 16-27 D-backs and 14-27 Astros have been outscored more than them this season.
"We haven't gotten into a positive rhythm yet," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Wednesday night at The Rollins Family Foundation's charity event. "It's part of the growing pains you have with young players. We have to have some level of patience. It's a tough balance between having patience and needing to win baseball games. That's the balance that Ryno [manager Ryne Sandberg], myself and the staff are dealing with right now."
It is ironic that the Phils have been criticized the past couple years for their loyalty to an aging core and a plethora of lackluster offseason acquisitions (Delmon Young, Michael Young, Chad Qualls, etc.), but that aging core and their most recent offseason acquisitions have been their best performers this season.
It is the organization's youngest talents that have been the source of its struggles.
Chase Utley's .973 OPS is the eighth highest out of 179 qualifying players in Major League Baseball. Marlon Byrd's .819 OPS is 18th out of 76 outfielders. Jimmy Rollins' .796 OPS is fifth out of 25 shortstops. Carlos Ruiz's .797 OPS is ninth out of 25 catchers. Ryan Howard's .776 OPS overall is well below his career average (.902), but he is on pace for 30 home runs and 93 RBIs.
The Phillies are getting some of the worst production in baseball in left field, center field and third base, where they are counting on players no older than 26. Domonic Brown's .591 OPS is 71st and Ben Revere's .602 OPS is 70th among 76 outfielders. Cody Asche's .684 OPS is 17th out of 23 third basemen.
Philadelphia also opened the season expecting a mix of young relievers to step up and blend seamlessly with veterans Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo, but that has not happened. Phils relievers have a 4.68 ERA, which is the second-highest mark in the NL and the fourth-highest mark in baseball.
The Phillies could have used more help in the bullpen, but their talent evaluators thought they had enough.
"Looking back doesn't do us all that much good," Amaro said. "What we have to do is find either internal solutions to improve or just hope that the guys start to do their thing."
Amaro said Triple-A prospects Ken Giles, a right-hander who throws 100 mph, and third baseman Maikel Franco are not close to ready.
"We're not going to force them because some other guys aren't performing," Amaro said. "They can't be saviors for us. They might be able to help us at some point, but when they're ready, when they have forced our hand to do it, they'll come."
"It's part of the growing process," Amaro said about the struggles of their young players and relievers. "That's part of the patience process. You've got to have some level of patience. But at some point, you've got to start winning games consistently. Right now, we're going to keep going with what we've got and hope the guys start doing the things we expect them to do and believe they can do. If not, we might have to look to do other things."
The July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline looms. Another six weeks like this and the Cliff Lee trade rumors should be in a full boil.
Amaro is on the hot seat, a source of criticism and frustration for fans. He said he tries to block out those pressures.
"I don't get caught up in that stuff," Amaro said. "What I get caught up in is wins and losses and trying to think, not just short term, but long term. Listen, we all want to win. Ryno wants to win. Our players want to win. Our front office wants to win and our ownership group wants to win. Sometimes you have to go through some things to get there. I think that's what we're going through right now.
"We're not really getting the production out of center field, left field or third base yet. I think we will get production out of them. I have confidence that they will. But it's not me that needs to have confidence they will. It's them. If they do it, then we'll have a more balanced lineup and we'll have more success. If they don't, then we'll have to see what we can do to try to improve that."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.