Charlie blows more bubbles after homeruns (Getty Images)
Since the finale of the Braves series, the Phillies offense has been struggling, posting scores of 3, 4, 3, 4, 3, 3, 3, 0, and 4. In those nine games, they have gone 5-4, which is a testament to how good the Phillies pitching is. But even with good pitching, asking them to hold the opponent below three runs to win most games is a tough task.
There is no reason to panic. However, their lack of extra base hits, particularly HR’s, has been an issue since the middle of last season. With just 13 HRs through 17 games, they are on pace for only 124 HR’s. They hit 166 HR’s last year and that was a huge decline from the 224 they hit in 2009. They haven’t had a season where they hit as few as 124 HR’s since 1997 when they hit 116 HR’s.
Charlie Manuel seemed a little frustrated by their lack of power and expressed his concerns earlier this week:
"Is it a concern of mine? Yeah," Manuel said. "The year we won the World Series … Burrell hit fifth and Jayson Werth hit sixth. And (Geoff) Jenkins hit sixth when he played (until) Werth beat him out. We had (Chase) Utley, Burrell and Jayson Werth as high on-base percentage guys, but not only that, they were also sluggers and run producers. We don't have that right now. We had some of it last year, but right now we don't have that kind of offense."
"First of all, your left and right fielder are supposed to hit 25 home runs and knock in close to a hundred runs," Manuel said. "When you break down the game and a team that is a prototype team and a championship team – I know people are going to say you got the starting pitching — but usually when you're talking about a World Series team you're talking about a top-notch team."
So far, Manuel has witnessed first-hand how difficult it is to consistently bunch singles together to score and/or try to manufacture runs every time you get some base runners. As Jim McCormick noted yesterday, much of their early hitting success can be attributed to good luck, just as now the lack of hits can be explained a little bit by bad luck. They had an unusually high number of ground-ball hits the first eight or so games. Ground balls sometimes have eyes and find a hole and sometimes they are hit sharply right at people. That’s baseball.
On Sunday, for example, the winning run was scored in large part due to a leadoff Texas League single by Ryan Howard, who eventually scored on Chooch’s sac fly. Howard’s pop fly single would have been caught if it was about a foot closer to Logan Morrison.
Yesterday, just prior to Polanco’s game-tying three-run HR in the 6th inning, Victorino hit a ground ball right where the second basemen would have been if Valdez had not been running on the pitch. It probably would have resulted in at least one out, if not an inning-ending double play. The point is a little luck is needed sometimes to score runs, especially when trying to group singles together. And if your team has been overly-reliant on HR’s and now they aren’t hitting them at anywhere close to that rate, they will find themselves more at the mercy of those seeing-eye hits to score runs.
Finally, another thing to consider is that if they aren’t hitting HR’s at past levels, then some of their home field advantage is lost. When they had a prolific offense and only average pitching in the middle part of the 00’s, Citizens Bank Park used to be the great equalizer, where they’d often make other teams’ superior pitching look about the same as theirs. But now I worry more about an opponent beating them with a cheap HR (see Ryan Braun on Tuesday night vs. Doc or Juan Uribe vs. Madson in Game 6 of NLCS, etc), which would be an out or a double in most other parks. Playing in a bandbox isn't as helpful when your pitching is much better and your opponents have more sluggers than you do. So with their pitching and and their power outage, I’d almost rather see them play on the road in bigger parks like San Diego, where they will be for the next 4 games starting tonight.
Perhaps, yesterday's 2 HR's are a sign that they may be breaking out of this power slump. And it's getting warmer, so it's almost time for Charlie's "hitting weather."