Good luck, Chuck.

Six years to the day that he trudged away from Citizens Bank Park after being dismissed as Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel will return today to begin what amounts to an interim stint as hitting coach. It’s a short-term assignment, according to general manager Matt Klentak, but one that the Phillies hope will invigorate an underachieving offense and lead the team to its first postseason appearance since Manuel was the manager in 2011.

Manuel, who replaces deposed hitting coach John Mallee, inherits a group that includes Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and Jean Segura. Somehow, though, the Phillies entered play last night ranked ninth in the National League in runs, 10th in hits, 11th in homers, ninth in on-base percentage, 12th in slugging, and 12th in OPS.

And then they struck out 15 times in a 4-2 victory over the Cubs.

With 43 games left, the Phillies are tied with the Mets for fourth place in the wild-card race, two games behind the Cardinals for the final NL playoff berth. Or, as Klentak said yesterday with his fingers only inches apart, “We are still this close.”

Can the winningest manager in franchise history nudge the Phillies over the top?

Check back in seven weeks.

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— Scott Lauber (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Charlie Manuel, left, will try to get Cesar Hernandez, middle, and some other Phillies hitters to relax and put up bigger numbers over the final seven weeks of the season.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Charlie Manuel, left, will try to get Cesar Hernandez, middle, and some other Phillies hitters to relax and put up bigger numbers over the final seven weeks of the season.

Offense’s revival will fall on Phillies hitters, not Manuel

Charlie Manuel has taught hitting since before many of the 2019 Phillies were born. And if we know Charlie, he will still be teaching hitting — or at least talking about it — even after some of them have retired.

For Manuel, every season is hittin’ season.

Everybody knows that Manuel is a hitting savant. Want to really get him going? Ask about the time that he debated Ted Williams — over a few VOs, of course — in a hotel restaurant in Washington about whether the top hand or the bottom is more important to a hitter. Jim Thome credits Manuel with getting him to the Hall of Fame. Ryan Howard swears by him.

So, Manuel’s legacy as a teacher of hitting is set in stone regardless of whether he can get these Phillies hitters to pull it all together enough in the season’s final seven weeks to slug their way to a wild-card berth. The same can’t be said for the reputation of those hitters, whose underachievement got Mallee fired and won’t be cured simply by Manuel’s arrival.

“The coaching staff can do all that they can to prepare us, but ultimately it falls on the shoulders of the players,” said Rhys Hoskins, 2-for-28 in his last 17 games. “Not that it has nothing to do with the coaching staff. But at the end of the day, we’re the guys standing in the box and we’re the guys standing on the field.”

Manuel’s mission is simple, literally. He will simplify things by telling the hitters to attack fastballs in the strike zone. He isn’t likely to proselytize about “launch angle” or dwell on new-age analytics such as “wOBA” and “wRC+.” Mostly, though, he will use his homespun personality and easygoing demeanor to help batters relax and stay loose at the plate.

But Hoskins is right. It will be up to him and Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Corey Dickerson, and the others to make the adjustments necessary to produce. Manuel can’t get the hits for them, just as he couldn’t for Thome or Howard or his 1999 Indians team that scored 1,009 runs.

“I think it’s up to the players," manager Gabe Kapler said. “This is certainly a fresh voice that can be helpful. At the end of the day, I think these players accept responsibility."

The rundown

Amid “We Want Charlie” chants at Citizens Bank Park, J.T. Realmuto hit a big homer to give the Phillies a series-opening victory over the NL Central-leading Cubs, as Matt Breen writes.

John Mallee was fired by the Cubs in 2017, one year after he helped coach them to a World Series title. After talking with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, Bob Brookover wonders if hitting coaches are hired to be scapegoats when things go wrong.

If the Phillies’ hitters need a fresh voice, it doesn’t get much better than Charlie Manuel.

Jake Arrieta’s availability for the rest of the season remains a topic of conversation. Arrieta said Sunday night that he might consider season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow that has compromised his ability to throw certain pitches or go deep into starts.

Important dates

Tonight: Aaron Nola vs. Cole Hamels. Get your popcorn ready, 7:05 p.m.

Tomorrow: Drew Smyly vs. Yu Darvish in Phillies-Cubs finale, 7:05 p.m.

Friday: Manny Machado comes to town with the Padres, 7:05 p.m.

Sunday: Phillies wrap up three-game series with Padres, 1:05 p.m.

Tuesday: After a day off, Phillies visit Fenway Park to face Red Sox, 7:10 p.m.

Cole Hamels chatting with Charlie Manuel in the Phillies' dugout back in 2009.
David Maialetti/Staff Photographer
Cole Hamels chatting with Charlie Manuel in the Phillies' dugout back in 2009.

Stat of the day

Let it be said that the first game of Charlie Manuel’s stint as Phillies hitting coach will come against a pitcher with whom he couldn’t be any more familiar.

Cole Hamels will return to the Citizens Bank Park mound tonight for the first time since July 19, 2015, his final home start for the Phillies before getting traded to the Texas Rangers 12 days later. In 143 career starts in South Philly, Hamels has a 3.26 ERA, four shutouts, six complete games, and averages of 8.4 strikeouts, 2.1 walks, and 1.1 home runs per nine innings.

Hamels also has more wins (56) than any other pitcher ever at Citizens Bank Park. Aaron Nola, who will face Hamels tonight, is tied with Roy Halladay for the third-most wins (29). Kyle Kendrick has the second most (39).

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: The question is not, “Why can’t the Phillies hit anymore?” The question is, why do Philly sportswriters focus on hitting issues? Since data analytics are popular, let’s look at the numbers. In the major leagues, the average losing team scores 3.5 runs. So, if a team scores 4 runs or more, it should win the game. The Phillies’ hitters are frustrating in leaving too many runners on base, but they do score 4 or more runs, even in most of their losing games. Clearly, the hitters are doing their job, the problem is with both starting pitching and with the bullpen.

— Peter L., via email

Answer: Hi, Peter. Thanks for the note. Full disclosure: You sent this before the Phillies fired their hitting coach, thereby proving that it isn’t only sportswriters who are focused on the offense. Also, the Phillies are averaging 4.72 runs, which ranks 18th in the majors. League average is 4.84. They have scored at least four runs in 57.1 percent of their games; the Braves, by contrast, have done so in 70 percent, the Mets in 68.6 percent, the Nationals in 61.9. But, you know, I digress ...

Actually, Peter, I’m with you that the pitching is the bigger overall problem. I’ve harped on pitching lately, specifically that the Phillies misjudged the talent in the starting rotation in the offseason and didn’t do nearly enough at the trade deadline to address it. Unless they bring in another starter or two this winter, not much else matters.

But let’s also not turn a blind eye to an offense that has underachieved. “Our offense hasn’t been good for some time now,” Klentak said yesterday. Can’t really put it any more bluntly than that.