What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Phillies' Offense

What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Phillies' Offense

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.

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is joining ESPN as a studio analyst next season.

ESPN announced Friday it has signed Kelly to a multiyear deal.

Kelly will primarily be part of Saturday pregame, halftime and wrap-up shows on ESPN2. He'll also provide NFL analysis on Sundays during SportsCenter.

The 53-year-old Kelly spent the last four seasons in the NFL, coaching the Philadelphia for three years and San Francisco for one. Kelly was fired by the 49ers after going 2-14 last season. He was 26-21 with a playoff appearance for the Eagles.

Before jumping to the NFL, Kelly spent four seasons as Oregon head coach and went 46-7. In 2010, Kelly led the Ducks to the BCS title game and was The Associated Press coach of the year.

"I spoke with a lot of people this offseason about different situations for me -- in coaching and TV," Kelly said in a statement. "I had various opportunities in both. In the end, I have had a relationship with ESPN for many years from when I was coaching and after speaking with them, I decided it was the best step for me to take."

Kelly figures to be in demand at the college level when head coaching jobs begin opening next season. Spending a season or two doing television has been a common path for coaches between jobs. Urban Meyer spent a season at ESPN between resigning from Florida and landing at Ohio State. So did Rich Rodriguez after being fired by Michigan and before being hired by Arizona.

"I have been a coach for nearly the last 30 years," Kelly said. "Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different perspective, but I didn't take the job with the intention it will lead to something specific. I love the game of football and working with good, smart people; ESPN presents an opportunity to combine those two things."

Kelly will fill an opening left by Butch Davis, who became head coach at Florida International.

Kelly was considered one of the most innovative coaches in college football. His up-tempo spread offenses dominated defenses and were mimicked by teams all over the country.

"As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach," said Lee Fitting, ESPN senior coordinating producer. "We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process."

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Plastered on a wall outside the press box in Coca-Cola Park is a sign — "Pigs to the Bigs" — surrounded by dozens of stars.

Each has upon it the name of a player who has made the leap from the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the parent Phillies since Lehigh Valley began operations in 2008 — everyone from outfielder Chris Snelling (April 30, 2008) to pitcher Nick Pivetta (April 29, 2017), the latter of whom has since returned to the IronPigs.

It is a study in the star-crossed, of guys who bounced up and down (Pete Orr, July 8, 2011), guys who flamed out (Domonic Brown, July 28, 2010), guys whose fate is yet to be determined (Maikel Franco, Sept. 3, 2014).

The point being that the path to major-league stardom seldom follows a straight line.

That has been demonstrated once again by the Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who spent weeks in bounce-back mode earlier this season.

And now finds himself there again.

His 0-for-4 night in Thursday's 8-4 loss to Indianapolis left him hitless in his last 16 at-bats, his slash line for the season at .175/.291/.221.

Recall that Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had exactly four hits in 48 at-bats over his first 14 games of the season, an average of .083.

Never before had the 22-year-old experienced anything like it, and he took a methodical approach to remedying the problem. He did some video work. He tinkered with his stance. He consulted with hitting coach Sal Rende and roving minor-league hitting instructor Andy Tracy. And slowly but surely, he began coming around.

The thinking at that point was that his slump might serve as a valuable lesson, a blessing in disguise.

As Crawford put it hours before Thursday's first pitch, "I'd rather struggle here than if I ever make it to the big leagues, God willing. I'd much rather have it [happen] down here than up there."

Though it will happen there, too. Baseball, everyone always says, is a game of failure. It's just a matter of how each player deals with it, works through it, minimizes it.

Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has said repeatedly that he was impressed by Crawford's approach to his scuffling start, that he thought the youngster treated it as "a growing opportunity" that can only help him down the line.

It was all Wathan could have hoped for, for Crawford or anybody else.

"I think it's a good thing to be able to have some experience to look back on, later on," he said. "Now, when they're going through it they probably don't think of it that way, but those of us who have been around baseball and been in situations like that personally, too, know that it's going to get better."

Wathan, seated at his office desk in a T-shirt and shorts before Thursday's game, has been around the block. He previously managed Crawford at Double A Reading, and believes those 14 games in April represent a blip.

"We know that J.P.'s a great player," Wathan said. "I think [such struggles] can actually end up being a good thing for these guys."

If Crawford, a native Californian, had few previous failures to draw upon — "He hasn't really had any," Wathan said — he at least had a ready roster of big-time athletes in his family with whom he could commiserate. His dad, Larry, was a CFL defensive back from 1981-89. His cousin, Carl, was a major-league outfielder for 15 years, ending last season. His older sister, Eliza, played softball at Cal State-Fullerton.

Certainly it appears they have kept him grounded, because he is singularly unimpressed by his draft status or ranking with various scouting services.

"I [couldn't] care less about that," he said. "All that doesn't really matter. Once you get on the field, everyone's the same. Everyone's the same player."

Though he was somewhat less than that early on. He was admittedly frustrated, but far from defeated.

"You've got to stay on the positive [side] on everything," he said. "You can't get too down on yourself, or else you're just going to do worse."

Had it been a major-league situation instead of a player-development situation, it is entirely possible that Wathan would have held him out of the lineup a day or two, just to let him clear his head.

"Or maybe not, because he contributes every night, somehow," the manager said.

And as Crawford said, "You're not going to get better sitting. You've got to go out there and play."

He admitted earlier this month that while he had once been reluctant about video study, he found great benefit in it when he was looking for answers in late April.

He decided to raise his hands while at the plate, and the hits began to come. He batted at a .253 clip over 24 games, including a six-game hitting streak, bringing his average to a season-best .196 on May 20.

Now it's back to the drawing board. It is, after all, a game of failure. It's just a matter of dealing with it, working through it, minimizing it.

He has become well-acquainted with the concept.