As Phillies are finding out, hitting is hard


As Phillies are finding out, hitting is hard

Charlie Manuel was telling a story earlier this week. He’s good at that. He has a lot of stories from a lot of places that fit a lot of different situations.
This particular story, like so many of the others, was about hitting. He was talking about being a hitting coach and helping guys in the minors and majors find their swings. He rattled off a few names, as he is wont to do, but Manuel was quick to reinforce the central theme of the yarn: Hitting coaches don’t actually hit. The players have to do that for themselves.
“Hitting is hard,” Manuel said simply. “If you think you can get up there and hit, you ought to try it sometime. Really. I’m sure [Albert] Pujols' start last year, he didn’t intend that. No one intends to get off to a bad start. Human nature still plays the game. You can break down all the stats you want, all the scouting reports I go over…you can have all those stats sitting there, but human nature still plays the game and human nature is still up there hitting.”
Hitting is hard. The Phillies know that all too well.
The Phillies lost to the Pirates, 6-4, at Citizens Bank Park Thursday. For the second straight game, the bullpen imploded. For the second straight game, the Phils failed to hit in crucial situations when it mattered most.
“We’re not getting it done and we have to score more runs,” Manuel said. “We’re in a period now where we have to hit more. Our guys know that.”
In the first three games against the Pirates, the Phillies left 23 runners on base. On Thursday, they stranded another five. In Hollywood-ized combat movies, no one ever gets left behind. Perhaps these Phillies aren’t cinephiles.
“Obviously we’re not going to capitalize on every opportunity,” Chase Utley said. “The more opportunities you have, the better chance you have. But it’s time to start capitalizing.”
It is time. Probably past time. Because while it is only April, and while the weather has yet to warm up, the games count, and they haven’t gone all that well so far. That has a lot to do with the hitters.

The bats, while not exactly missing this season, have been inconsistent. The Phils have scored three or fewer runs in 11 of their last 14 games. They are 5-9 over that stretch.
They’ve already been shut out twice at home. That’s the same number of zeros they posted at CBP all of last year.
They have grounded into more double plays than any National League team, and they’re third on that front in all of baseball.
They entered Thursday’s game with various collective team-batting stats that ran from mediocre to somewhere south of that. They were 17th in Major League Baseball in average, 20th in slugging percentage, 22nd in on-base percentage, 22nd in runs and 23rd in RBIs.

When he was asked if the team was pressing a little and perhaps trying too hard, Utley said “that’s the nature of the beast” and added “we just have to let it come to us.”
It was impressive, smashing two clichés into one short statement. He wasn’t alone there. Maybe, before games, the players get together, Bull Durham-style, and go over all the well-worn talking points they plan to regurgitate like masticated cud.
“At some point, it’s cliché, but it’s bound to turn,” Ryan Howard said. “Sooner or later, it all evens itself out.”
Again, impressive stuff, stitching together those tired thoughts, though he shouldn’t telegraph the cliché by actually mentioning it’s a cliché. Better to just let it hang in the air like some unpleasant odor.
Lame language choices aside, the Phils better hope Utley and Howard are right. They’d better hope the game starts coming to them and things turn and even out. Because, while it’s only April, while it’s still early, it won’t be for long.

The Phils are 9-14. They have lost three in a row. They haven’t been above .500 yet this year.  And for the second straight April, they are assured of beginning the season with a losing month. They can still dig out of this hole – provided they don’t keep making it deeper. But that’s the danger here, that eventually they’ll look up and find they’re too far buried to climb back to relevance.
“When you get 60, 70, 80 at-bats and there’s hardly no production there, that can’t be good,” Manuel said. “Really. I’m leery. That grabs my attention.”
His and everyone else’s.

Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera Gold Glove finalists at SS, CF

Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera Gold Glove finalists at SS, CF

Two Phillies are in the running for a 2016 Rawlings Gold Glove.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis and centerfielder Odubel Herrera were named National League finalists at their position on Thursday. Winners will be announced on Nov. 9. Galvis and Herrera are both finalists for the first time.

Galvis joins San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford, a Gold Glove winner in 2015, and the Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell as finalists at shortstop.

Herrera is a finalist in center field along with Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte.

Galvis, who turns 27 in November, committed himself to improving his defense after making 17 errors in 2015 and he did that with a career season in the field in 2016. He led all NL shortstops with a .987 fielding percentage and made just eight errors in 625 total chances while earning praise from Phillies’ infield guru Larry Bowa.

Galvis led the NL with 153 starts at shortstop and had errorless streaks of 51 and 44 games. At the plate, he reached career highs in doubles (26), homers (20), extra-base hits (49) and RBIs (67). On the down side, Galvis hit just .241 and his .274 on-base percentage was the worst in the majors.

Herrera, who turns 25 in December, began his career as an infielder in the Texas system and completed just his second season in the outfield in 2016. His credentials for a Gold Glove are not nearly as good as Galvis’. Herrera’s nine errors were the second-most among major-league outfielders, but he had 11 assists, fourth-most among NL outfielders.

The Phillies selected Herrera in the Rule 5 draft in 2014. They selected Inciarte in the Rule 5 draft in 2012 and he opened the 2013 season on the Phils’ roster, but was shipped back to his original club, Arizona, during the first week of that season.

World Series: Arrieta, Schwarber lead Cubs past Indians to even series 1-1

USA Today Images

World Series: Arrieta, Schwarber lead Cubs past Indians to even series 1-1


CLEVELAND -- Jake Arrieta made a teasing try at history, Kyle Schwarber drove in two runs and the Chicago Cubs brushed off a shutout to even the World Series with their first Fall Classic win in 71 years, 5-1 over the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Arrieta carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, briefly invoking Don Larsen's name, before the Indians touched him for two hits and a run. However, the right-hander helped give Chicago just what it needed -- a split at Progressive Field -- before the Cubbies return to their Wrigley Field den for the next three games starting Friday night.

The Cubs hadn't won in the Series since beating Detroit 8-7 in 1945 to force Game 7.

The free-swinging Schwarber, who made it back for Chicago's long-awaited Series return after missing most of the season with an injured left knee, hit an RBI single in the third off Cleveland's Trevor Bauer and had another in the Cubs' three-run fifth -- highlighted by Ben Zobrist's run-scoring triple.

Even the presence of star LeBron James and the NBA champion Cavaliers, sporting their new rings, couldn't stop the Indians from losing for the first time in six home games this postseason.

And Cleveland manager Terry Francona's magical touch in October finally fizzled as he dropped to 9-1 in Series games.

With rain in the forecast, Major League Baseball moved the first pitch up an hour in hopes of avoiding delays or a postponement.

It turned out to be a good call as the game went on without a hitch and ended after more than four hours as light rain was beginning to fall.

Arrieta and the Cubs provided the only storm.

The bearded 30-year-old coasted through five innings without allowing a hit, the first pitcher to get that deep in a Series game with a no-hitter since David Cone of the New York Yankees in 1998.

For a brief period, Arrieta looked as if he might challenge Larsen's gem -- a perfect game -- in 1956 before Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, a die-hard Cubs fan as a kid, doubled with one out in the sixth .

Before that, Cleveland hitters had a couple good swings, and drew three walks, but couldn't mount a real threat. Arrieta has two career no-hitters, in fact, including the only one in the majors this year.

Cubs lefty Mike Montgomery replaced Arrieta and worked two scoreless innings before Aroldis Chapman came in and unleashed his 103 mph heat while getting the last four outs.

The teams will have an off day before the series resumes with Game 3 at Wrigley, which will host its first Series game since Oct. 6, 1945, when tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave with his pet goat, Murphy, and a curse was born.

Josh Tomlin will start for the Indians, who will lose the designated hitter in the NL ballpark, against Kyle Hendricks.

Schwarber might also wind up on the bench after two days as the DH.

With a gametime temperature of 43, the weather was more fitting for the Browns and Bears to bang heads than the boys of summer.

The Cubs were the ones who came up thumping after being blanked 6-0 in Game 1 by Corey Kluber and Cleveland's shut-down bullpen.

Zobrist's one-out triple triggered the fifth as the Cubs opened a 5-0 lead, not that Arrieta needed it.

After Anthony Rizzo walked following a 10-pitch at-bat, Zobrist laced a ball off Zach McAllister that was going to be a double until right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall slipped and fell. Rizzo was waved around and Zobrist hustled into third.

Schwarber followed with his second RBI and reliever Bryan Shawn later walked No. 9 hitter Addison Russell with the bases loaded.

Unlike his start in Toronto on Oct. 17, when his stitched cut opened up and Bauer was forced to make a bloody departure in the first inning, his finger held up fine.

The Cubs, though, put a few nicks in him in 3 2/3 innings.

The drone accident has brought attention to the quirky Bauer, and one Chicago fan tried to rattle the right-hander by sending a smaller version of the remote-controlled, flying object that cut him.

Bauer posted a photo of it on Twitter, saying "I see the (at)Cubs fans love me! How nice of them to send me a gift!"

The Cubs, who were off balance from the start against Kluber, scored their first run in a Series game since `45 in the first on Rizzo's RBI double .

Bauer needed 51 pitches to get through two innings, and he was one strike from getting out of the third unscathed when Chicago turned a walk and to singles into a 2-0 lead.

Up next
Cubs: Hendricks is coming off his brilliant performance in Game 5 of the NLCS when he pitched two-hit ball for seven innings as the Cubs clinched their first pennant in 71 years. The right-hander went 16-8 during the regular season with a league-leading 2.13 ERA.

Indians: It will be an emotional night for Tomlin, who will pitch on 12 day's rest with his ailing father, Jerry, in attendance. The elder Tomlin became stricken with a spinal condition in August, when Tomlin was struggling on the mound. The right-hander more than recovered and rescued Cleveland's rotation in the postseason, winning both starts.