By Sam Bush

The Phillies are only a half-game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League wild-card spot.

Just imagine how much better off they’d be if they could hit as well as they can pitch!

Led by Aaron Nola (above 4-1, 2.17 ERA) and Jake Arrieta (3-1, 3.49), the starting staff has been better than expected. Nola’s 7 1/3 shutout innings keyed the Phillies’ 6-0 victory over the Marlins on Wednesday that snapped their four-game losing streak.

The bullpen has been terrific. Even without injured All-Star reliever Pat Neshek, the bullpen has accumulated the fifth-best ERA in baseball (3.08, which is No. 3 in the NL) and an 8-4 record. Right-hander Edubray Ramos (0.69 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 13 innings) has been especially effective.

“The bullpen is a major strength of our club,” manager Gabe Kapler says. “We’re going to continue to lean on those guys.”

The Phils haven’t been hitting the ball well, and that’s the problem.

Four regulars — multi-positional Scott Kingery (.217), outfielder Aaron Altherr (.207), catchers Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp (a combined .209) and first baseman Carlos Santana (.151) — are batting below .220. As a team, the Phillies are 24th in the majors with a .235 average and tied for 24th with 27 home runs.

Santana, who signed a three-year, $60 million free agent contract, is known for his slow starts. In 2014, he was hitting .158 after 30 games en route to a 27-homer, 85-RBI season, though he ended up hitting just .231 that year. I keep hearing about the high exit velocity from balls off of Santana’s bat. It’d help if some of them start finding open spots soon.

Center fielder Odubel Herrera is batting .333 (tied for first in the NL) and left fielder Rhys Hoskins is at .296 despite going 2 for 19 in his past five outings.

The defense has been mediocre, based on 24 errors (tied for fourth-worst).


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