There’s a line in Pulp Fiction when Winston Wolfe says, “Now, you’ve got a corpse in a car, minus a head, in the garage. Take me to it.” Wolfe is the ultimate fixer, and ultimately gets Vincent and Jules out of their bind–at least for the time being. I think a lot of people are hoping Chase Utley pulls into the players’ garage at Citizen’s Bank on Monday and says, “You’ve got a team, minus an offense, in the clubhouse. Take me to it,” and then has as much success as Winston Wolfe. Not only did Harvey Keitel’s character solve the problems, but he quickly took control of the situation, setting everyone in line, calling people out, anything that needed to be done. I guess you can heap that on Chase’s plate too. Utley’s presence alone wasn’t enough to help the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, but perhaps with his name stenciled into the lineup on Monday things will be a little different, or maybe at least some of his mates will wake up.
It’s becoming a theme of Phillies coming off the DL. Welcome back–now ignite the clubhouse. I remember when the Phillies were in the throes of a similar slump last season while Jimmy Rollins was on the disabled list. When he returned he was expected to “spark things.” Glad to have you back, but while you’re at it, can you go ahead and kick-start the entire team? It’s quite a burden. Not even Domonic Brown can sneak onto the big league roster with modest expectations. His second time around hasn’t done much to lower the hopes of the public. For the Phillies, development and rehabilitation come at different levels. When you join the big club, they need you to contribute–right away.
If there is someone who can handle this kind of heat, I think it is probably Chase Utley. Even with the heightened awareness of Phillies fans, I can’t imagine that they will be harder on him than Chase is on himself on a daily basis. I don’t think Utley rattles. The question is, how healthy is he and where exactly are his skills in relation to his prime? We’ll probably find that out slowly over the course of the next month or so. Utley will need his days off and there will likely be a constant discussion about his workload, especially if he comes out hitting. Of course to be an upgrade for the Phillies, all Chase has to manage is about .250 with any pop at all. That he should be able to handle, but how close will he get to what the Phillies actually need–a consistent middle of the order threat?
At some point the Phillies will cease to be in a slump and they’ll find whatever level their talent dictates. I don’t think many people looked at this Phillies team as a great offense, but I don’t think anyone was expecting the last 10 days. The question is, where do they fall between what we’ve seen lately and their peak? Are they slightly better than this? A good deal better? It’s hard to know for sure right now.
They are in the midst of what I consider their toughest stretch of schedule. Especially from an opposing starting pitching standpoint, the Phillies haven’t had many breaks of late. Jurrgens (twice), Johnson, Hudson, Garcia, Chacin…a good portion of their opposition occupies the top of the NL ERA rankings. Scoring 1, 2 or 3 runs is what has been happening against these guys all year. No one makes their hay against great pitching, but the Phils haven’t been able to pounce on the weaker starters either during this stretch and so you have everything compounded into this general offensive malaise.
What is causing it?
There was talk before the season (Jayon Stark I believe) that the league had figured out the Phillies. They were a fastball hitting team that was not getting fastballs to hit any longer. It seemed a bit premature at the time, but this season it has become glaring. The Phillies see a bare minimum of fastballs. And, not only that, guys go against their typical repertoire against the Phils. Routinely starters throw less fastballs against the Phillies than they do against anyone else (This is anecdotal, but I’d put money on it). So scouting opposing pitchers for tendencies against other teams might be useless, because when they hit Philadelphia there is a universal game plan.
The slump comes from Philly’s inability to make an adjustment to this, and in this regard I snare a telling comment from Charlie Manuel. Every once in a while, if you catch Charlie at the right time, he might let something slip. In recent days, he’s mentioned veteran (and modern) players being stubborn. I extrapolate this out to mean that Charlie or anyone else hasn’t been able to get the guys to really embrace a change in approach. Maybe in spots, but in general, there seems to be a thought that, “we’re veterans, we’re fine.” The guys are working, but maybe aren’t changing anything? They became star players with one approach, and they may be hesitant to change that, but unfortunately for the Phillies the fastballs aren’t coming any time soon, especially in fastball counts. No one makes a living hitting major league breaking balls.
So, combine this possibly stubborn approach from the players (are they going to blame the coaches for a 2nd straight year? Perhaps.) and combine that with some AAA talent, declining skills amongst the core, and a whole heap of good pitching and you’ve got a team struggling to score.
That’s what Chase Utley will be coming back to on Monday. The good news is that the Reds are a team the Phillies have had some success against (especially Monday’s starter Cole Hamels). And, after Cincinnati the schedule takes a little breath. The twenty game stretch will be over and maybe the Phillies can find themselves again battling the more pedestrian residents of the National League.