By Rob Maaddi
These Phillies can swing the bats, too.
Lost in the hype over Philadelphia’s outstanding pitching is a star-studded offense loaded with talent. The Phillies’ lineup includes seven players who’ve been All-Stars, two former MVPs and five guys who’ve hit 30 homers.
The one regular who’s never made an All-Star team—catcher Carlos Ruiz— happened to lead the club in hitting with a .302 average this season.
So while everyone raves about Philadelphia’s three aces and San Francisco’s equally tough starters, the hitters take a back seat and quietly go about their business. They’re not letting all the talk about how pitching is expected to dominate the NL championship series intimidate them.
“I’m not even going to bring a bat with me,” Shane Victorino quipped. “I’m done.”
Game 1 of the NLCS is Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. All the focus has been on the marquee matchup between Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay. The reigning two-time Cy Young Award winner against the front-runner to win it this year. Then it’s Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, though not necessarily in that order, pitching the next two games for the Phillies against Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez.
“That’s baseball. I don’t care who’s on the mound, I’ve got to go out there and try to get hits, whether it be Lincecum, whether it be Cain, whether it be Sanchez,” Victorino said. “You know we’ve got to go out there and try to score runs.
“It’s going to be an interesting little series. We know what we’re up against. Are we going to do anything differently? Yeah, we need to hit. But I think as long as you get a ‘W’ at the end of the day, whether it be through good pitching or good hitting, that’s what it’s about.”
The two-time NL champions used to rely on their hitting and outslugged teams in the past. This year, pitching carried the Phillies to their fourth straight division title.
The offense slumped and was inconsistent all season, but injuries were a major factor. Six of the eight regulars spent time on the disabled list, including significant stints by Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.
As a result, everyone except Ruiz had a decline in production. Still, with sluggers such as Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth in the middle of the order along with Victorino, Utley, Rollins, Ruiz, Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez, the Phillies are feared despite their final stats.
“We’ve got the talent to be an offensive team, which we’ve been for the last four or five years,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “And this has been, this definitely has been a down year, the numbers kind of speak for it. But at the same time, we’re very capable of busting games open and putting up more offense. I expect us to score more runs.”
Overall, the Phillies finished fifth in the NL in average (.260), second in runs (772) and fifth in homers (166). They led the league in runs (820) and homers (224) last year. They were tied for second in runs (799) and first in homers (214) in 2008 when they won the World Series. They were first in runs (892) and second in homers (213) in 2007.
“Our offense is pretty offensive-minded every night, no matter what,” said Werth, who had 27 homers and 85 RBIs after hitting 36 and knocking in 99 last year. “I think we feel we’re going to go out and score a bunch of runs every night, even though we haven’t done that a whole lot this year. We still have that type of attitude.”
Injuries were such a problem that the eight regulars have yet to play three straight games this season. Barring anything happening in workouts this week, they’ll finally make it to three in a row in Game 1 against Lincecum.
Losing Rollins, the offensive catalyst, for nearly half the season hurt Philadelphia. When Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, is on his game, the Phillies are hard to stop. But he batted just .243 in 88 games and lost his job as leadoff hitter to Victorino in the postseason.
Utley, the No. 3 hitter, missed 47 games and finished with a .275 average, 16 homers and 65 RBIs—all career lows.
Howard’s numbers also dipped dramatically and he only missed 19 games. Howard had 31 homers and 108 RBIs after averaging 49.5 homers and 143 RBIs over the previous four years.
But this was the year of the pitcher in the majors. Only two players hit 40 homers. Albert Pujols led the NL with 42. Jose Bautista led the AL with 54.
“We can score more runs,” Manuel said.
He’ll settle for one run more than the Giants in every game of the NLCS.