At 26-16, the Philadelphia Phillies are leading the National League. They trail only the upstart Cleveland Indians for the best record in all of baseball. Still, the silence of their bats remains a glaring issue. The Phightins have scored just nine runs in their last five games, and needed both a gem from Cole Hamels and fiery close from Ryan Madson to win a 2-1 ballgame Tuesday evening. Indeed, the team has squandered many a good performance from its starting rotation as of late, making last night's victory all the more nerve-racking.
As a club, the Phils are sixteenth in the majors in batting average (.249), seventeenth in runs batted in (165), nineteenth in on-base percentage (.315), twentieth in total runs scored (170), and twenty-third in slugging (.371). All of those numbers, you will notice, are below the league median.
With all that in mind, fans and commentators have begun to discuss line-up changes and roster adjustments as if Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel have been left to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. But, are we getting ahead of ourselves? Discussion after the jump…
The date at the top of this post reads May 19th, meaning the Phils are just about a month and a half into their 2011 campaign. Traditionally, this group of players, under this manager, have proven a slow-starting ball club. This year, however, the team rushed out of the gates to assume its spot at the top of the standings.
Here's the point, Major League Baseball plays a 162-game season. There will always be multiple highs and lows throughout that season. Swoons will happen and are expected regardless of their timing.
Yes, the Phillies dropped four in a row prior to last night. But, believe it or not, the 2008 WFC's lost a staggering six in a row in June of that year, going 5-13 during an 18-game stretch.
Or, if you don't want to compare this team to those of years past, consider the following. In 42 games, the Phillies are 17-2 when scoring four runs or more. The team average for runs scored in the 2011 season is 4.04 per game.
Moreover, just look at this line-up. Does anyone expect this particular group of guys—no offense to Pete Orr, Michael Martinez or Dane Sardinha— to be posted up in the clubhouse in another month? How about another two weeks?
Asked on Tuesday's pre-game show about what his club needs to get going, Ruben Amaro refused to play the injury card, stating that teams need to fight through injuries (Charlie Manuel shared the same sentiment after last night's game) and that the Phillies shouldn't be making excuses. He did immediately make the comment, however, that his team will be exploring all its options leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, meaning the club has the potential to look radically different in another two months. With the prospect of a trade, or even multiple trades, and the return of injured veterans, such a premise seems inarguable.
That said, I'm not suggesting that the return of Chase Utley will suddenly make the Phillies one of the most feared lineups in the game. In fact, Amaro should be doing everything possible not to rush him back. As we have seen over the past two seasons, a physically-hampered Chase Utley, despite all his effort and guile, pales in comparison to his performance when healthy.
Think of it this way—it might be time to come to grips with the fact that the Phillies have lost some of their offensive mojo. Jimmy is getting older, Chase is always injured, and Ryan has no one to protect him, because Jayson bolted for Washington. Still, didn't we already know this well before opening day? None of these facts, sorry for the pun, came out of left field.
The idea from the very start was that this team's pitching would be good enough to make up for its offense. For the first month, the offense was electric. Recently, it hasn't been. But, you know what? In all likelihood, this, too, shall pass.