Well now everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
NEW YORK — Now we don’t know what is happening with the Phillies. The issues regarding the collective offensive slump could be one of those fluke things or maybe even something larger at work. We’ll be able to figure out those things at the end of the season when we ask what went wrong or right for this ballclub.
But make no mistake about it… something is wrong with the Phillies these days and walking in to Yankee Stadium for three games beginning tonight is probably not the best remedy. After all, not only do the Yankees have the best record in baseball, but also they are 22-7 at home this season.
So as the Phillies hope for a resurrection and look for a big-time measuring stick, we can only project and ask questions. No, it’s not the best situation, but until something breaks it’s all we have.
Is this it? Is this 32-29 version of the Phillies — the team that is 6-14 in the last 20 games — what we’re going to have to deal with for the rest of the season? And if so, how did we get here?
No, things don’t look too promising, and though manager Charlie Manuel remains upbeat and continues to trot of the mantra that his guys will hit (and pitch?), secretly he is worried. Why wouldn’t he be? Manuel knows as well as anyone that sometimes the twists and turns of the game have a way of settling in. At some point the trends stop being aberrations or spikes in a chart and become the norm. Just listen to Manuel speak if you need proof. He’ll cite line and verse about a time when the Phillies dropped into an offensive swoon, stayed there and never really wiggled out of it.
It began, Manuel recalls often, with a 20-run explosion in St. Louis in 2008, followed by the thought that the Phillies were on the way to scoring 1,000 runs for the season only to replaced with the reality that the team wasn’t going to score many runs without slugging a home run.
Worse, the great hitting coach’s team went on to win the World Series that year not by slugging past teams, but with pitching and defense.
Of all the indignities!
In the meantime the numbers are pretty harrowing. Worse, the owners of some of the ugliest digits are the players the Phillies can least afford to post them. After tying Reggie Jackson's World Series record with five homers in last October's Fall Classic, Chase Utley has dropped off considerably. Though he clubbed 10 homers in the first two months of the season, the All-Star second baseman has not hit one since May 20, a span of 21 games. Uglier yet, Utley has batted just .153 in that span. That's far worse than the .230 with two homers Ryan Howard has provided over the last 20 games or the .164 average and lone homer from free-agent to be, Jayson Werth in that same period.
As the manager might say, “Not good…”
The most alarming of the team-wide slumps is with Utley, who looks as if he is a marathoner who hit the wall. It’s not that Utley isn’t posting the numbers because sometimes that can be subjective and/or not an accurate measure. No, the part that Utley barely has warning track power anymore is what is strange. Last year Utley was whipped at the end of the season because had off-season hip surgery, rushed to get back to the lineup and then played in 156 regular-season games and 15 more in the playoffs. It was understandable for a guy to wear down under those circumstances.
However, how could Utley look so tired just 59 games into this season considering Manuel promised to give his second baseman more days off during the season? Instead, because of the Phillies’ struggles it’s become a vicious cycle. Manuel can’t rest Utley because the team needs to win games, but by continually trotting him out there he has begun to take the shape of a pencil worn down to the nub.
There are other variables at work, too. For instance, pitchers appear to have regrouped after being bludgeoned during the so-called “Steroid Era.” In making up for lost time and fighting back against ballparks built to cater to baseball’s lost age, the big-league pitchers have mounted an insurrection with three no-hitters and two perfect games already this season. Those tallies would be four and three if Jim Joyce hadn’t missed a call at first base in Detroit two weeks ago.
Like any living species, pitchers adapt and evolve. So after more than a decade of being treated like chum for hitters, the tables have turned. For a team filled with talented yet strikeout-prone and flawed hitters like the Phillies, opponents finally appear to be exploiting certain weaknesses.
All of those theories and questions only create more theories and questions. Still, the only question that matters in the short term is to wonder how quickly can the Phillies adjust, adapt and evolve. Because if the answer is not, “very quickly,” what we see might just be what we’re going to get.