So far the Phillies have done OK without slugger Ryan Howard. Of course it’s been just one game, but Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz popped homers and piled up seven hits on Tuesday night in Miami. That’s good because if the Phillies are going to survive the spate of injuries plaguing the team, guys like Ruiz, Francisco and new cleanup hitter, Jayson Werth, are going to have to deliver.
Because teams with injury problems like the Phillies don’t win otherwise.
Yeah, there have been a few teams in recent history that lost its top slugger during the regular season and were able to keep it together to get to the World Series. For instance, the Yankees played the first 28 games of 2009 without Alex Rodriguez, which would have been a crippling loss, if the team didn’t have guys like Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira ready to pick up the slack.
In 2007, Manny Ramirez missed 24 games in September for the Red Sox and hit his final homer of the regular season on Aug. 28. But when the playoffs started, Ramirez was back in the lineup and batted .400 with four homers through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
It also didn’t hurt that the Red Sox had David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and American League rookie of the year, Dustin Pedroia. The Sox were so stacked that they traded Ramirez to the Dodgers midway through the 2008 season.
There’s always a fallback slugger, like in 1990 when Eric Davis missed 23 games in May and the last week of the regular season, but was ready to go in the playoffs when Reds’ teammates Paul O’Neil, Chris Sabo and Mariano Duncan stepped up. Davis was the best player on the Reds in 1990, but registered a 2.6 Wins over replacement (WAR) because guys like Billy Hatcher and Glenn Braggs kept the machine running.
Ah yes, running. That’s one way to combat a power deficiency. That’s how the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals made up for losing Jack Clark for 34 games in September and October. Considering that Clark banged out 22 homers in 122 games, which was exactly two more than the combined total of the six players on the team that played 100 games that year, his loss was significant.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals won 101 games and made it to the seventh game of the World Series (they actually won it in six games, but Don Denkinger… you know) partially because they swiped 314 bases—110 from Vince Coleman—and had a .335 on-base percentage as a team. Tommy Herr led the team with 110 RBIs even though he hit just eight homers. Willie McGee drove in 82 runs with just 10 homers and 18 triples to capture the NL MVP Award.
The strangest stat from the 1987 Cardinals is that they won 101 games with two pitchers that won 21 games with five players getting at least 30 stolen bases. Herr and Ozzie Smith swiped 31 bags in ’85, which would have led the Phillies in 2009 and been the fourth-best in the National League.
Yes, the game has changed.
But speed, as they say, kills, and it’s a weapon the Phillies used to their advantage to get to the World Series the past two seasons by swiping bags at a better than 80 percent clip. However, the running game for the Phillies has been grounded a bit, too. Shane Victorino leads the club with 20 steals, but he’s out for another few weeks with an abdominal injury. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been caught stealing all season and has the second-most steals in franchise history in the modern era. But between the calf injury that led to a pair of DL stints and a sore foot that ballooned after getting smashed by a foul ball, Rollins has simply trying to hold it together.
So the Phillies are missing their speed and power as we head into the throes of August. And if that isn’t enough, Chase Utley is still days away from simply gripping a bat after he ripped the ligament on his right thumb. Over 162 games, Howard and Utley average nearly 80 homers per season, which is seven fewer than what the 1985 Cardinals hit all season.
What can the Phillies do if they can’t bash and run past the opposition? Werth, the darling of the SABR set, is streaky at best and followed a two-doubles effort in Washington with four strikeouts against the Marlins. There’s Rollins and Placido Polanco, but those guys are still recovering from stints on the disabled list. Raul Ibanez is starting to swing the bat, and catcher Carlos Ruiz is putting together his best season offensively. Also, Dom Brown is holding down a spot in the heart of the lineup, but is it fair to ask a rookie to keep the team together until the big guns start to trickle back?
So what do they do without Howard, a player that has dominated Septembers past?
How about pitching and defense?
Good thing the Phillies have the Roys and Cole, huh? Now if they can just close out some games they’ll be OK… maybe.