05/31/12 12:19 AM ET
Phillies demonstrate what could, and should, be
Talent has always been there for underperforming offense
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Sure, Philadelphia is down two critical cogs in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and it's unclear when either will return. And doing without Carlos Ruiz in the starting lineup to boot hardly seems fair. But that doesn't change the fact that, overall, the Phillies' offense has been underperforming. More nights like Wednesday's 10-6 win over the Mets, from players who are entirely capable of it, and the story would be about who's there, rather than who's gone.
And that's what any manager worth his chewing gum will tell you should be the focus anyway.
This is an offense that started heading in the wrong direction a year ago, falling to sixth in the league in runs. Then it lost the two middle-of-the-order constants who have paced five straight division champions. This year's team ranks seventh in the National League in runs per game.
There's more to be had, though. Jimmy Rollins has endured a terrible year up until Wednesday, entering the game with a .230 average and matching .286 on-base and slugging percentages. Shane Victorino is at .250/.317/.409. Hunter Pence fell to .262/.333/.480 on Wednesday. Save Rollins, they're not disastrous lines, but they're not the kind of numbers Philadelphia needs.
"When Chase is out, when Ryan is out, you look at guys like that in the lineup, in a bad year, one guy can hit 20 and the other can hit 30," Victorino acknowledged. "In a bad year -- in their worst year. You take that out of your lineup, that's 50 home runs. But not only that, it's the presence of them. ... It's going to be fun to get them back, but I've always said, they're not here and we've got to go with the 25 guys we've got."
The challenges are partly the price a team pays for keeping together an older lineup. Players north of 30 tend to decline, rather than improve, and it is possible that all of these guys are simply beginning their decline phases. It's also possible that they're just off to slow starts, and with 70 percent of the season still to come, things will look different sooner than later.
"You get some guys hitting, you get two or three guys hitting, even a lineup, those guys can hit," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's just a matter of them relaxing and staying focused and getting good balls to hit."
So while the best news for the Phils on Wednesday was a needed win, the second-best news was who did the damage. Rollins had three hits and a home run. Victorino added a two-run single and a go-ahead sacrifice fly. And Ruiz came off the bench for a pinch-homer that tied the game, a welcome indication that time on the pine hasn't ruined his mojo.
Those veterans should be the core of the Phillies' offense. Instead, they've been part of the reason that Manuel's team has been hovering around .500 and putting up middling numbers. Philadelphia's starters remain excellent, even as Roy Halladay hits the DL. The bullpen has struggled, which hasn't helped, but the whole picture would look a lot better if there were some bigger leads to protect.
That's why Wednesday was so encouraging if you're a Phils partisan. Rollins doesn't have to get back to his 2007 form to make this team better. If he can just find the double-digit-homer power he has flashed for most of his career, it would be an upgrade.
"When Jimmy is hitting the ball, getting on base and things like that as he has in the past, yeah, he definitely is a big boost for us," said Manuel. Rollins declined to answer reporters' questions following the game.
The way the Phillies are going to overcome their losses, if they do, won't be by any one player becoming Superman (though Ruiz is doing a pretty good impersonation). It will be by several guys doing more than they're doing now -- in the offense, the bullpen and even the rotation. And it starts with the guys who have done it before.
Maybe it started Wednesday.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.