The last time we saw the Phillies they couldn’t hit or score runs unless it came on a long ball. In fact, I even hatched up some harebrained idea that the Phillies’ brass should go out and shore up the offense by signing Barry Bonds to some type of bargain basement deal.
But rather than dig into the T.J. Maxx of all free-agent signings, the team was reportedly kicking the proverbial tires around the Colorado Rockies and All-Star Matt Holliday.
Holliday ain’t no T.J. Maxx or even Filene’s Basement, you know.
Anyway, the Phillies’ hitting and more to the point, it’s so-called “situational hitting” was so freaking lousy that skipper Charlie Manuel called out his hitters by telling them how much they stunk.
“You’ve got to really concentrate on moving a runner,” Charlie vented last Sunday in Miami after an extra-inning loss. “You’ve got to want to move him. Sometimes they feel like we’re giving up an at-bat. No, you’re not. There’s hits all over the field. If you hit behind the runner, you can still get hits. That’s just called execution and hitting the ball in the right direction. When we don’t do that, I was telling some of our guys around the cage, it’s going to be hard for us to win.
“I hear everyone [praise] our lineup, but people don’t realize, we've got a different lineup than we had last year. We’ve got three or four top-notch major-league hitters. Have they had better years? Yes. At the same time, they’re still good hitters. But if you follow our team, we’ve got different people. Sometimes, one guy makes a difference.”
Was that one guy Aaron Rowand, the gritty and playoff-tested centerfielder who took a multi-year deal from the Giants last winter? Or maybe past league MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins had grown complacent with the fundamentals? After all, the national TV media digs the long ball.
Regardless, it’s difficult to get the fawning attention the ballplayers crave without the October spotlight. After all, that’s where the real legends are made and the statistics really matter. To feed the narcissism, the Phillies need to score runs and that just isn’t going to happen if they decide to wait around and hope someone hits one over the fence.
It ain’t beer league ball, folks.
But maybe the Phillies finally got it during the ninth inning of last night’s improbable comeback at Shea Stadium to knock off the Mets, 8-6. Sure, Johan Santana leaving the game after eight stellar innings of work probably spurred the Phillies in the six-run ninth, but it wasn’t so much about the finish as it was the journey.
Sure, So Taguchi and Jimmy Rollins drove in the biggest runs with extra-base hits, and some mental errors by the Mets clearly helped the Phillies in the big ninth inning, but look at what they did to set the table for the game-breaking hits.
• Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs and Shane Victorino singled to start the ninth and load the bases.
• Carlos Ruiz reached on a fielder’s choice when Jose Reyes inexplicably missed stepping on second base. One run scored.
• Taguchi tied the game with a two-run double. Still no outs.
• Rollins drove home the go-ahead runs with a two-run double. No outs.
• Chase Utley advanced Rollins to third on a ground out.
• Pat Burrell walked.
• Ryan Howard drove home Rollins for the sixth run of the inning on a ground out.
What’s missing? You guessed it, the home run.
See how fun that was without a homer.
Anyway, the important part was that the Phillies kept the lead in the NL East and should return to Philadelphia for the weekend series against the Braves no worse than a game out of first place. Prodigal right-hander Brett Myers makes his return to the big leagues tonight at Shea…
It should be interesting.
It’s gotten to the point where manager Charlie Manuel will use utility outfielder So Taguchi only if he has no other choices. In fact, Taguchi has just six at-bats in the last month and seven going back to May 30, which was the last time he started a game.
It seems as if the manager is loathe to use Taguchi even as a late-inning defensive replacement for left fielder Pat Burrell after the former Japanese star misplayed a few fly balls in a couple of losses. Even in pinch-running situations Manuel has turned to infielder Eric Bruntlett or sometimes pitcher Adam Eaton.
No, Charlie probably isn’t going out of his way not to use Taguchi, but it sure does seem like it.
Meanwhile, right fielder Geoff Jenkins’ season batting average has dipped to .237 thanks to getting just five hits since June 7, and 11 hits after May 28. Over the last month, the left-handed hitting outfielder is batting just .089 (5-for-56) with one homer, one double and 16 strikeouts.
Some say the Phillies’ offensive swoon has come because of a power outage. Even Manuel and some of the Phillies brass have been critical of the team’s inability to score runs without the long ball as well as its reluctance to manufacture runs with situational hitting. Since scoring 20 runs against the Cardinals in St. Louis on June 13, the Phillies have lost 15 of 22 games. Worse, they have averaged just 3.74 runs per game during that stretch. With a lineup featuring the past two NL MVPs – Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins – as well as perennial All-Star Chase Utley and slugger Pat Burrell, the Phillies should score runs by accident.
But they don’t.
“The biggest problem we have is situational hitting,” Manuel said. “Moving runners or knocking in a guy from second with no outs or from third with one out. We definitely have to have more of that.”
If there is one player to symbolize the Phillies’ feast-or-famine offense, it’s Jenkins. This season he has seven home runs, which account for 12 of his 24 RBIs. Howard, too, has personified this symptom by getting 49 of his league-leading 78 RBIs on 24 homers. Howard is also on pace to shatter his single-season Major League record for strikeouts in a season. With 124 whiffs in 91 games, Howard should be the first man in Major League history to eclipse the 200 strikeouts barrier.
Feast or famine.
“Our offense is generated by the top of our order. We manufacture runs by getting (Jimmy) Rollins and (Shane) Victorino on base with (Chase) Utley. Usually from Howard and (Pat) Burrell that’s where our RBIs come from – that’s where we get our runs. Sometimes some guys pick up the slack, but we’re not doing that right now. We’re not getting too much from the bottom of our lineup.”
So while the Phillies acknowledge that the need help with the pitching and are looking to add a starter (and/or a reliever) by the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, maybe they ought to consider a hitter, too, as they cling by the edge of their fingernails to first place in the NL East.
And if the Phillies are looking for a power bat to come off the bench or to play some right field from time to time against right-handers since Jenkins is hitting just .249 against them as the left-handed bat in the platoon with Jayson Werth, we might have the guy for them.
The guy we’re thinking of has struck out just once every seven at-bats during the past two seasons. Also during that span, he has clubbed 54 homers – or one every 13 at-bats – hit a modest .273, but has a .467 on-base percentage.
Oh yeah, he also has nearly 2,000 career RBIs, seven MVP awards and 762* home runs.
Yes, we’re talking about Bonds…
Yeah, Bonds brings a whole lot of baggage and that isn’t even bringing the upcoming trial for perjury into the equation. He is also two weeks away from his 44th birthday, which would help the Phillies corner the market on mid-40s lefties. And of course there are all the accusations regarding performance-enhancing drug use and all-around surliness. Bonds will never be a candidate for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given each year to a ballplayer who exemplifies character and charitable contributions to his community.
Yes, Bonds’ off-the-field situation is troublesome and quite serious, but the Phillies need a hitter. On Tuesday night Cole Hamels pitched yet another gem by holding the Cardinals to just a pair of runs and three hits in seven innings, but took a hard-luck 2-0 loss.
The lack of offensive support is beyond frustrating for the Phillies’ pitchers.
“Any time you don't score runs it's hard to win,” Manuel said. “I say it all the time, but when Hamels pitches like that we have to win the game. We came up short. We won four straight on the road and then came home and lost four straight.”
But enough of the hang wringing. If Bonds can play – and all reports indicate that he wants to – why not let him? Surely his skills likely have eroded a bit, but then again, Taguchi and Jenkins only have a combined six more hits than Bonds.
Heck, they have just six more hits than me.
If someone can explain how Bonds can be worse than Taguchi or Jenkins then call the whole thing off.
Here’s the good part – Bonds will work cheap. The Phillies are paying Taguchi $1.05 million this season with a $1.25 million club option for 2009 or a $150,000 buyout. Not bad work if you can find it. They are also paying Jenkins $5 million in 2008, $6.75 million in 2009 with a mutual option for $7.5 million in 2010 or a $1.25 million buyout. Again, not exactly chump change for a guy hitting .089 since early June.
Bonds’ agent Jeff Borris says his client will work for a prorated share of the league minimum, which is $390,000. In other words, the Phillies could have Bonds for the rest of the season for less than $190,000.
“The fact that no team in Major League Baseball has made an offer for Barry even at the minimum salary has created a level of suspicion that is currently being investigated,” Borris said.
“Let's look at the facts. Barry performed admirably in 2007. Barry is healthy. Barry has been offered at the minimum salary and Barry's trial date is in March of 2009, so there would be no interruption of the 2008 season. It defies explanation as to why he is not employed in 2008 with a Major League club.”
There have been grumblings that American League teams Tampa Bay, Seattle, Detroit and Boston have looked at Bonds as a possible designated hitter. There are also some rumblings about the Mets being interested in the star-crossed home-run king. But so far there have been no takers.
Perhaps Bonds could mentor young-ish slugger Howard? Maybe he could teach the Phillies’ first baseman that he can strikeout significantly less without compensating his home-run power?
And who knows, maybe Bonds can still play a little, too. Hey, he can’t be any worse than what they already have.