I've got to start by saying that I was wrong. For months I’ve been insisting the Phillies will be fine this year -- that they have at least one last National League East championship in them as the Nationals, Braves and Marlins remain just a step behind.
I was wrong. The Phillies suddenly seem old, uninspired and just plain stupid. Yes, it’s only April but my ironclad opinion that this team would cruise to the division crown is now showing lots of rust around the edges.
After wasting Cliff Lee’s 10-inning shutout while we slept Wednesday night, there are some glaring warts that need to quickly be addressed or the 2012 Phillies could fade into oblivion sooner than any of us hoped.
First, let’s look at the ugly team batting stats and where the putrid numbers place the Phillies in the National League (out of 16 teams overall).
Batting Average - .248 (7th)
On-Base Percentage - .284 (14th)
Slugging Percentage - .331 (13th)
Runs - 35 (14th)
Doubles - 16 (15th)
Triples - 0 (tied for last)
Home Runs - 6 (tied for 12th)
Extra Base Hits - 22 (15th)
Total Bases - 130 (12th)
Walks - 19 (15th)
At least they lead the league with 12 stolen bases (yeah, Juan Pierre)
But sorry Charlie, it looks like “Hitting’ Season” might never come at this rate.
There are some major culprits and blame can go in many directions but the biggest blame lies with general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. who picked up non-OBP guys like Laynce Nix (career .288 OBP) and Ty Wigginton (career .325 OBP) in hopes they would hit powerfully enough to make up for a lack of plate discipline. Instead the Phillies -- who already had a guy like Jimmy Rollins (.329 career OBP) swinging at too many pitches -- are allowing starting pitchers to last longer in games because they just don’t see enough pitches.
Only once this season have the Phillies managed to chase a pitcher before six innings (surprisingly against Josh Johnson after 3-2/3 innings). They are too aggressive at the dish and getting owned by pitchers from Jonathon Niese to Jeff Karstens that are anything but “Aces.”
If they didn’t have Hunter Pence in the lineup (.326/.380/.500), the Phillies would be even worse.
The Phightins do manage to get on base with hits (they are eighth in the NL with 101 hits) but they are mostly -- 78 percent of time -- just singles and often don’t come in clutch situations.
The worst example yet of the Phillies ineptitude of getting the man home was Wednesday night in the 10th inning of their 11-inning loss to the Giants. After Carlos Ruiz led off with a rare double and was moved to third on a Freddy Galvis sacrifice, slugger Jim Thome sauntered up to the plate.
Thome, one of the greatest home run hitters in baseball history, was brought back to Philly to knock in runs -- plain and simple. A big slugger has to be able to launch a ball into the vast outfield of AT&T Park in that situation to bring home the runner from third.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy countered the lefty Thome with left-hander Javier Lopez. Instead of a sac fly, Thome -- like he’s done nearly half the time so far this season -- struck out. John Mayberry, Jr. (batting a robust .212 and slugging just .242) grounded out and the inning was over.
"I didn't do it," Thome told Philly.com.
After just one hit and one walk in 13 plate appearances while striking out six times, it could be time for Thome to hang ‘em up just like another great slugger, Mike Schmidt, gracefully did more than two decades ago. But I’ll give Thome a few more weeks to prove he has something left in the tank but calling for his player’s card.
For now the cure for the Phillies bats as a whole could be simple but sound counter intuitive.
Look at pitches, work some counts and put pitchers into situations like 2-0 and 3-1 counts where they can sit on “a pitch to hit,” play Moneyball.
Teams that work that count typically succeed. For my money no team was more impressive at the plate than the 2003 Red Sox that had only two regulars, Johnny Damon (.750) and Todd Walker (.760) post an OPS less than .820. They scored a MLB-high 961 runs and also happened to walk 620 times (good for third in MLB). That patience led them to 238 homers (just one behind Texas for the best in baseball).
The key to hitting the ball really is not swinging all the time. Thanks Billy Beane.