09/23/09 11:25 AM ET
Imperfect Phillies lineup gets job done
Team makes up for some shortcomings with power and speed
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
"Baseball is hard," he said. "It's hard to hit. You can know what's coming and can't hit."
Fortunately for Manuel, the Phillies arguably have the best lineup in the National League, which he hopes serves them well in the 2009 postseason. They lead the National League in runs (756), doubles (293), home runs (211), RBIs (727), extra-base hits (533), total bases (2,310) and slugging percentage (.448). They are second in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.783). And for all the talk about how the Phillies strike out too much, they rank eighth in the league in strikeouts (1,077).
The Phillies have a lineup that features six current and former All-Stars (Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez) and two former NL Most Valuable Players (Howard and Rollins). It features four players with 30 or more home runs -- just the 12th team in baseball history to accomplish the feat.
They have power, but they can run. The Phillies lead the league in stolen base percentage (82 percent) and are tied for second in the league in stolen bases (109).
"It's who we are," Manuel said. "We've got power, but we do have speed, especially at the top of the order. We've got Rollins, Victorino and Utley.
"Utley isn't as quick as the other two, but he's a very intelligent baseball player. He knows when to run. He has a good feel for the game. He studies the game. His stolen bases mean something. The top of our lineup is where our speed pays off, especially when Victorino and Rollins are getting on base.
"We don't bunt a lot because we can steal and we've got a lot of left-handed hitters in the lineup. If we play the game right we should be able to hit the hole at first base if they're holding the guy on. We should be able to pull the ball, if we play the game right."
But the Phillies offense can be maddening, too. They are just 11th in batting average (.257), 11th in hitting with runners in scoring position (.252) and 15th hitting with runners in scoring position with two outs (.215). The Phillies strike out in 20.9 percent of their total at-bats, but 23.1 percent with runners in scoring position, and 26.2 percent with runners in scoring position with two outs.
The Phillies simply have not been good with their situational hitting, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. That is true, and it could be costly in the playoffs. The Phillies were 1-for-28 with runners in scoring position in Games 1 and 2 of the 2008 World Series, but those are numbers the Phillies would not like to try to match again.
It all goes back to perfection in baseball. The Phillies still lead the National League in runs scored.
"You can cut it anyway you want, and I can talk all day about it, but at the end of the day production is where it counts," Manuel said.
Manuel offered an example of a .300 hitter who scores only 50 to 60 runs with only 50 to 60 RBIs.
"He hasn't done anything," Manuel said. "He should have done that, even if he's hitting ninth in the lineup. I've heard people say, 'Oh, he hit .300 last year.' And then you look and you see 50 runs scored with 40 RBIs. That isn't good.
"Now, if he scores 120 runs and knocked in 40 or 50? Then we're talking differently."
The Phillies score more runs via home runs than any other team in baseball, which some consider a problem.
They are just too reliant on the long ball.
"That's baseball," Manuel said. "They always look at the negative. But scoring runs is scoring runs. I've always thought we could hit better, and the more consistent we hit, we would hit more home runs. But that's how our offense sets up. If you look, Ibanez, Utley, Werth -- those guys have 30 homers. Howard has 40. That pretty much tells the story. Jimmy Rollins has 19. If a shortstop hits 25 homers in a season he's definitely considered a home-run hitter. That's kind of how we line up."
And until that perfect lineup comes along, Manuel will take it.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.