Hey, want a positive? The Phillies got a scoreless inning out of Mike Stutes. Perhaps last night was the first inning of a successful season for Stutes–a rare bullpen arm coming out of the Phillies farm system. Other than Stutes and Cliff Lee’s strikeout touch (let’s not get too excited about that total), all attention after the game focused on the struggling offense. A five-game winning streak had just ended, the Phillies still had the best record in the National League, but the offense has been dormant for two weeks. And, this wasn’t Petco Park. It wasn’t another slop throwing lefty. I think a lot of people thought, well get them to Arizona, then they’ll finally hit. Not last night, and it seemed to trigger the panic button. Up and down the line up, with the exception of Placido Polanco, the Phils are staring at a lot of 0fers, 1fers, and 2fers.
I think we are seeing the perfect storm of a slump with this team. I don’t think it is a total coincidence that it started around the time that Charlie began complaining about the power numbers. The team went from scoring with singles and doubles to not getting on base at all. His outcry for the long ball, paired with the arrival of some good pitching planted some seeds for what has grown into a full-blown malaise. When the bad numbers start piling up, the guys get tighter, you forget what it feels like to get a hit, suddenly you are 0 for 10 and you need that hit desperately. They could be blowing themselves out in the cage before the game taking extra BP. I have no idea. I know they are working, but right now it isn’t translating to the field. Of course the final factor could be the most important, the Phillies are short on offensive talent.
One thing that isn’t a coincidence is that Polanco, the only pure hitter in the line up, is the one that’s hitting. I feel like with much of the rest of the line up, we’ve all been relying a little too much on hope. We hoped Ben Francisco would be an everyday player (he might not be). We hoped Wilson Valdez could fill in adequately (he can’t). We hoped that Jimmy Rollins would be fueled by a contract year (he hasn’t been). We hoped that Raul Ibanez would not show the signs of being in his late-thirties (he’s off to another bad start). That’s a lot of wishing. You’ve got the one hitter in Polanco, you’ve got one real power threat in Howard and then the rest is streaky at best and they are all locked in a cold streak right now.
The good news is that the Phillies have survived the lack of offensive output. They are a team built around pitching and so the staff has taken 3 or 4 runs on multiple occasions during this stretch and turned it into victories. We knew that there would be more low scoring games this year, but it’s the consistency of the low outputs that is troubling. It seems like in two weeks you’d score 5 runs a couple of times by accident, but that hasn’t happened to the Phils. They’ve only been shut out twice, but it feels worse than that, because there hasn’t been one easy game during the whole stretch. If they could just bust out one day it might make the whole team, the whole city of fans relax a little bit.
They have eight more games lined up to do it. Two more against the Diamondbacks. Then they get the Mets and Nationals at home. That isn’t a brutal line up of opposing pitchers. Maybe a tough guy here or there (the Phils struggle with RA Dickey at times and didn’t hammer the Nats earlier this year), but for the most part teams score against these teams. That’s why they are .500 clubs at best. If the boys don’t start scoring, they’re going to really start hearing it from the home crowd and it’ll just turn uglier. Again, hard to fathom how a 1st place team has gotten themselves into this spot.
Some last-ditch efforts:
1. Get Rollins out of the 3-hole. In fact, change around the whole order. This is something Charlie did in the past, but he seems reluctant this year, I think because all of the options seem less than appealing. Well, it’s time to change for the sake of change. I’d embarrass Rollins. See if that works. Nothing else has. Hit him 7th. Hit him 8th. Hitting Ibanez 3rd last year seemed to wake him up, throw him in there, it can’t get any worse.
2. Less Wilson Valdez. He’s got to play less. The more he plays, the less productive he is. And, Michael Martinez is not a big league player, either. The bench, I hate to say it again, but is not a strong point. When we’re clamoring for Pete Orr (a guy who has never stuck) that’s a personnel issue.
3. Forget about home runs. I’d be fining guys for pop ups and handing out cash for base hits at this point.
4. Platoon. Mayberry, Ibanez, Gload and Francisco. None look like an everyday player at this point, so 3 times a week each, see what happens.
Other than that, there isn’t much to do except trust that it can’t stay this bad forever. There’s always the slim possibility of a trade, and the wait for Chase Utley to come back. I had a dream Utley was playing the other night. I have some issues.
Tonight is a golden opportunity to get things going. The Diamondbacks will start Daniel Hudson who started the season with a couple of serviceable starts, but has been hit around a bit since. For some reason I think the knowledge that they should be hitting this guy is counterproductive for the Phillies right now. If things don’t change, we’ll really have to shift our expectations, and just lean on that pitching staff. It has the Phillies in first place, but the hold feels tenuous.