Defensive lapses like this John Mayberry Jr. misplay into a triple are commonplace

The clock is ticking for witless Ruben Amaro Jr. to start unloading whatever talent he can foist on the rest of baseball. The problem is that Cliff Lee is their best trade bait and he is injured

By Ben Sullivan

The Phils are now 23-28, but only four games out in the NL East, the worst division in major league baseball.

And, while that four-game gap may give solace to no-nothings like Michael Barkann, the Phils in 2014 are eerily reminiscent of the woeful 2013 team.

Josh Beckett’s no-hitter last Sunday afternoon was  a lowlight in what’s shaping up to be a lost season for the Phillies, who had an uncharacteristic offensive outburst Monday but have been shut out six times in their last 19 games.

Amid that kind of futility — reemphasized by last night’s 4-1 loss to the Mets in which the Phils struck out 15 times — a team will look for silver linings wherever it can find them, and Phillies pitcher David Buchanan offered one of those rare happy moments in his major league debut Saturday: With a 4-2 lead and speedster Dee Gordon dancing off third base in the fifth inning, Buchanan got ahead of Justin Turner 1-2, reared back, fired, and snuck a pitch right by the Dodgers third baseman. As the rookie walked off the mound, he received a rousing ovation from the crowd, including his dozen-plus friends and family in attendance. Amid the celebration, no one seemed too concerned about the particulars of the pitch, a navel-high, 82 mph changeup that many hitters would’ve launched to New Jersey.

Though we’re barely through end of May , the Phillies’ season has already been reduced to celebrating these small victories. After what seemed like a worst-case scenario 73-win season last year, the Phils are on a nearly identical pace this season, which means they’re probably going to start throwing some prospect spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Buchanan, who just turned 25, is a bit old to be making his MLB debut and isn’t an elite prospect.  And while the Phillies’ farm system is improving, there are few exciting arms beyond Double-A left-hander Jesse Biddle. Still, it’s once again time to see if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will try to accelerate a youth movement that’s pushed twenty-something players like Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, and Ben Revere into the lineup.

As Jonah Keri wrote in Grantland.com:

“If Amaro chooses that path, the most obvious approach would be to trade Cliff Lee for prospects. The 35-year-old southpaw was having another excellent season before hitting the DL, ranking fifth in the National League in Fielding Independent Pitching (2.61) and carrying the second-best strikeout-to-walk rate (6.8-to-1). This success is nothing new for Lee, who since 2008 leads all major league starting pitchers in FIP and K/BB rate and ranks fifth in innings pitched. He’s also found other ways to keep spirits high.

“Buchanan’s debut gave the Phillies a glimpse into the Lee-for-prospects world, as the rookie’s start came in Lee’s usual spot in the order, with the lefty missing a start because of an arm injury for the first time in his career. The Phillies hope Lee’s DL stint will end in the minimum 15 days, but fans might want to bet the over. Lee said he’d been feeling sore since throwing a career-high 128 pitches in the aforementioned 13-strikeout loss against the Braves, and he’ll wait until later this week to have the flexor tendon strain in his pitching elbow reevaluated.

“For those rooting for the Phils to expedite their ‘don’t call it a rebuilding’ rebuilding process, Lee’s health will be the dominant story line for the next two months. He’s owed about $43 million through the end of next season, with a $27.5 million club option (or $12.5 million buyout) for 2016. Those numbers might look huge at a glance, but if this injury isn’t serious, Lee will remain one of the most (only?) reliable pitchers in the game at a time when injuries are destroying rotations. Combine that usual reliable excellence with a much shorter contract commitment than a pitcher of his caliber would fetch on the open market, and Lee could tempt numerous suitors. To name just a few, every AL East team except the Rays looks like a logical match, while a reunion with his former Seattle club could also be in the cards. The longer the Phillies wait, the less they’re likely to get in return.”

It may seem indelicate to ask, but when it comes to the Phils’ front office, can;t anybody here play this game?