Walks for Phillies during 4-1 win over Brewers on Saturday

No offense intended

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 17

Pitching and defense win championships. But a little offense wouldn’t hurt.

A little offense is exactly what the Phillies have been producing recently. They finished their last homestand by scoring five runs while losing two out of three to the Braves. The Phillies found some offense in Florida, but then lost two out of three to the Braves again, this time in Atlanta.

The Phillies scored 10 runs in the series in Atlanta, but that total is not indicative of the ineffectiveness of their offense. The two runs they scored in two losses to the Cardinals, which extended their losing streak to four games, is a much more accurate barometer of the depths of the offense’s decline.

This isn’t a situation where the Phillies are putting a lot of runners on base and failing to get a key hit. It isn’t a situation in which they’re hitting the ball hard, but it’s hit right at the fielders. This is a case where they’re not hitting. Period.

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My colleague Josh Landsburg, who does a terrific job writing a weekly Phillies Notebook for PhillyPhanatics.com, presented an interesting theory in his most recent notebook. The Phillies, Josh points out, are built to win in a style more reminiscent of last season’s San Francisco Giants than the home run-bashing Phillies of recent years.

The problem, according to Josh, is that fans are accustomed to the Phillies crushing teams. That’s the supposed cause of the outcry over the Phillies’ offense.

Josh’s theory has a lot of merit. Where I disagree with Josh, however, is that he doesn’t understand all the complaining about the offense. He seems to dismiss the complaining as much ado about nothing.

Is there too much being made of the offense’s woes? Probably. The Phillies do have the best record in the National League.

But is there legitimate reason for concern? Absolutely.

It’s one thing to struggle against the Braves’ excellent group of starters or unbeaten Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia. To produce one run against Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook, as the Phillies did during their 3-1 loss Monday, is another matter.

Westbrook entered Monday’s game with a 6.92 ERA. He was on a downward trend, having pitched worse in May than in April. Yet the only run the Phillies produced against Westbrook came when John Mayberry, Jr., stole second base and scored on a flare to left by Ben Francisco.

The Phillies’ lack of production Monday wasn’t too surprising. With Placido Polanco out of the lineup, either because he was slumping or a sore back (each reason was cited at different times Monday), the Phillies’ lineup featured Wilson Valdez (.231) and Raul Ibanez (.223) batting second and third, respectively (averages through Monday night). Batting fifth through eighth were Mayberry (.271), Francisco (.225), Pete Orr (.246) and Carlos Ruiz (.211). That’s not exactly Murderer’s Row.

No wonder Ryan Howard barely saw a pitch to hit all night. With that lineup, would you pitch to Howard? And how do you think Cliff Lee, who hadn’t won in his previous five starts, felt when he took a look at the lineup card before the game?

The lineup didn’t get much better Tuesday night. Polanco (.338) was back in the lineup, with Orr going to the bench. But Michael Martinez and Dane Sardinha (both batting .200) replaced Ibanez and Ruiz in the lineup. After the No. 5 hitter (Mayberry), the Phillies’ lineup didn’t include anyone batting above .225.

I know the response of many people is: wait until Utley comes back from his knee injury and Victorino returns from his sore hamstring. Then the Phillies will be just fine.

I wish that were true. But what did Utley’s injury or Victorino’s absence have to do with Ibanez going 0 for 35 during one stretch? Or Ruiz going 0 for 26? Or Francisco’s recent 2-for-28 slump?

Those players are starters. We’re not talking about Martinez or Valdez, who wouldn’t be in the lineup if Victorino and Utley were healthy.

Utley’s health, by the way, is a huge “if.” The positive news this week was that Utley played consecutive games. If that’s considered progress, then what are the chances that he’ll play more than two-thirds of the games once he comes back? And that’s if he can stay healthy once he returns, which is another huge “if.”

Is it too early to get worked up about the offense? I don’t think so.

Yes, the Phillies are still in first place. And, no, they’re not going to hit .211 for the season, as they have through seven games of their current road trip. But the Marlins and Braves are right on their tail (a half-game and 1½ games behind, respectively, entering Wednesday’s games). Even if the Phillies win the NL East, though, that’s not enough.

Remember, this team will be judged by whether it wins the World Series. If the Phillies can’t score runs against good pitching, it will be difficult to reach the World Series, regardless of how many aces the Phillies send to the mound. 

With the recent anemic offense, Roy Halladay lost back-to-back games. Granted, Halladay made mistakes in both games. But the margin of error shouldn’t be so small that one mistake will cost him a game. The same goes for Lee and the Phillies’ other aces.

The recent “struggles” of Halladay and Lee should be a reminder that pitching and defense aren’t enough to win a championship. You’ve got to throw in a little offense every once in a while.

There’s a long way to go until October. But there is legitimate concern that the Phillies don’t resemble last year’s Giants as much as they do the punchless Phillies team that the Giants eliminated – except their offense appears even worse.

Readers of this post also enjoyed:

New-look Phillies: They might be Giants (5/14/11)
Phillies Notebook (5/7/11)
Phillies Notebook: April records bring May … (5/1/11)
Phillies Notebook: Bastardo deserves key role (4/24/11)
Phillies Notebook: Aces prevent losing streaks (4/19/11)
Phillies Notebook: Pivotal Phillies, ranked 1-25 (4/11/11)


Phils’ offensive woes discussed in the 5/15/11 episode; listen by clicking the “play” arrow above
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