“You don’t want to send a negative message when you’re winning, but at the same time I think our guys know what they’re capable of hitting. I have an old saying that if you’re not hitting .300, you need help.” – Charlie Manuel
The Phillies need a lot of help.
They were shut out for the second time this season in last night’s 4-0 loss to the Diamondbacks. Arizona took an early lead and I thought to myself, “I just don’t see them coming back to win this game.”
It was the third inning. Against Arizona. With Cliff Lee on the mound.
The Phillies have not scored five runs in a game since April 9, when they scored 10 against the Braves at Turner Field. That is 14 consecutive games scoring four or fewer runs.
No team in baseball has scored fewer runs since April 9. The Phillies are averaging 2.79 runs per game, which ranks 28th in baseball. Only the Padres (2.69 runs per game) and White Sox (2.67 runs per game) have averaged fewer, which is hardly comforting. The Padres might have the worst lineup I’ve seen since I started covering baseball. Nobody in the Padres lineup scares you. The Phillies’ lineup has five former All-Stars, even without Chase Utley.
Only the White Sox (.197/.263) have a worse batting average than the Phillies (.200/.269) since April 9.
Nobody has a worse slugging percentage (.292) or OPS (.561).
But here’s the thing: there are no quick fixes, no obvious solutions. The Phillies could play John Mayberry Jr. more in left field while Raul Ibanez struggles. Manuel said in Spring Training he could play Ross Gload more. Gload has started once. Manuel has defensive concerns about Gload, but maybe it’s time to sacrifice defense for offense. Pete Orr has had some good at-bats at second base. Manuel could try playing him more, but Mayberry, Gload and Orr are not a magic pill for the offense.
What about changing the lineup? Fans have said Manuel needs to move Jimmy Rollins from the third spot because he has just two RBIs. OK, who hits third? Placido Polanco? OK, now what? Not a lot of options, is there? I’m not saying a lineup change is a bad idea. In fact, I’d give it a shot. But there are no moves smacking you in the face. If Ibanez weren’t in a 0-for-21 slump I would say he should hit third. He hit very well there last season, but he’s not hitting well now. Can’t do that. Does Rollins hit leadoff if he’s not hitting third? Second? Fifth? Seems like shuffling deck chairs.
What about a trade? The Phillies are over budget and close to the luxury tax threshold. They would have to shed salary to take on salary, and what team trades a stud bat in April? Nobody. If anything would happen it would happen much closer to the trade deadline. And even then I’m not sure a trade would happen.
The best solution seems to be the most obvious one, and the one that might take the longest time: Utley returns before the end of May and the rest of the offense figures out things on their own. In the meantime, they better hope the pitching continues to dominate.