ABOVE PHOTOS: Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
(Photos by Photo Works / Shutterstock.com)
By Chris Murray
Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun
Over the past couple of years, fans on sports talk radio in this town and newspaper websites have suggested that the Phillies would be better off without a slugger like the injured Ryan Howard in their starting lineup.
Folks should have been careful of what they wished for.
Without the combination of the firepower Howard brings and the consistent bat of second baseman Chase Utley, who is also injured, the Phillies’ offensive attack has been so diminished that it is currently in the basement of the National League East.
“Every good lineup in the American and National League, if you go look, I guarantee you somewhere down in the order, not only do they have one power guy, but they got a combination of power guys, three, four, five, six down and sometimes in the two hole,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
Without Howard, you are missing a guy who has hit 30 homeruns and driven in 100 runs batted in for six straight years. Last season, Howard batted .298 with runners in scoring position (.359 on the road). He led the majors in go-ahead runs batted in with 38 and led the National League in game-winning RBI with 23.
Last season, the Phillies averaged 4.84 runs per game with Utley in the Phillies lineup. He also reached base safely in 91 of the 103 games he played in an injury-riddled 2001 season. Up until the last two seasons, Utley was averaging 25 homeruns and, like Howard, 100 runs batted in per year.
“You’re almost taking 200 RBI away, so the guys they have can’t make that up,” said Phillies television analyst Gary “Sarge” Matthews. “The players that are out are some of the best players that [the Phillies] have had in their history. They’re trying to maintain until they get back and hopefully, you’re not out too many games out.”
Another reason that the Phillies miss Howard and Utley is their capacity to get big hits late in the game, something that can help a team coming from behind. Until Wednesday night’s come from behind win against the Colorado Rockies, the Phils were 0-27 games in which they’ve trailed after the seventh inning. Last season, they won 40 games in come-from-behind fashion. Wednesday night’s win against the Rockies marks only the second walk-off win this season.
“It’s great to come back,” said Phils centerfielder Shane Victorino. “That was thing about this team. When teams came into play us, they knew that. It was 27 outs no matter what, no matter how far you get ahead.”
In addition to Howard and Utley being out, the Phillies have injuries on their pitching staff. Ace among aces Roy Halladay is on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, while reliever Jose Contreras is done for the season due to an elbow injury. Michael Stutes and David Herndon have also spent significant time on the disabled list as well. Needless to say, getting to closer a Jonathan Papalbon has been an adventure.
And so if you believe that old Bill Parcells saying that you are what you record says it is, the Phillies 32-37 record and the fact they are nine games out of first place is an indication that injuries have finally taken their toll.
Can they make a charge for the division title in the second half even though Howard or Utley may not be 100 percent whenever they do come back?
I think so. The team is starting to show signs of turning it around, but they still have a long way to go catch the Washington Nationals. It has to start now.
Throughout the first two months of the season, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel kept telling the Philly media that he believed he had a good enough hitting team even without his big sluggers. After struggling in the early part of the season, some of the Phillies players are starting to catch fire.
Since May 1, the Phillies have led the National League in runs scored. Oddly enough, they are the sixth best team in the National League in batting average with runners in scoring position
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, coming into Wednesday night’s game, has been hot. He is hitting .345 in his last 19 games. John Mayberry Jr. is batting .375 with seven extra-base hits in his last six games coming into Thursday’s series final against the Rockies
The Phillies 7-6 win over the Rockies might be a good omen of things to come for the Phillies. Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth and down to their last out, the Phillies got a two-out RBI double from Hunter Pence that scored Ty Wigginton to tie the game.
The Philllies got the winning run when Rockies first baseman Todd Helton failed to put his feet on the first base bag enabling Placido Polanco to reach on what was a routine ground to short. The error enabled Pence to score from third.
“Hopefully, something like this will kick start something for us to go in the right direction,” Victorino said.