The Phillies, Charlie Manuel said before the season, were like a four-layer chocolate cake. And Bryce Harper, Manuel said, was the icing on top.
Now, Manuel will play a big role in helping that cake rise.
The Phillies hired the 75-year-old Manuel to be their hitting coach Tuesday morning after they fired John Mallee. The lineup, which was bulked up this winter, underperformed under Mallee. The Phillies rank below the league average in nearly every offensive category. They have been more like a cupcake than the four-layer cake Manuel dreamed about.
The Phillies enter Tuesday’s series opener against the Cubs in fourth place in the National League East and two games behind the second wild-card spot. A drastic change felt imminent after the team stumbled through a seven-game road trip. Inserting Manuel is that change.
Manuel returns to the dugout after being fired in August 2013. He guided the Phillies to the 2008 World Series title and five straight division championships. He is the winningest manager in franchise history, has already built a rapport with the current team, and has built a career on teaching hitting.
The offense he inherits ranks 23rd in the majors in slugging percentage, 18th in on-base percentage, 23rd in homers, and 19th in runs scored. Since July 1, the Phillies have the fifth-worst batting average with runners in scoring position and the second worst with the bases loaded.
The Phillies were built to hit their way into October. Instead, they are on the outside of the playoff picture.
Mallee brought an analytically inclined teaching method to the Phillies and emphasized that his hitters be “selective aggressive.” But the style often caused the Phillies to be passive in the batter’s box and struggle against fastballs. It seemed at times that the hitters were being presented with too much information.
Manuel, as a senior adviser to the general manager, has been a fixture at Citizens Bank Park. He is uniform every spring training and often hangs around the batting cage in South Philly. The Phillies, with seven weeks left in a season that would be a disappointment if it did not end in October, will turn to Manuel’s guidance.