Charlie Manuel rose through the ranks as a hitting coach. That's what he knows. The Phillies' line-up is built to hit. That's what they know. So it's only natural that in times like these -- 1-8 on this recently-completed home stand with a three-game series against the tough Rays on tap -- the focus turns to hitting. The Phillies managed one run on three hits against Jeremy Guthrie yesterday. They've scored three or fewer runs in five of the last nine games. Leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins has just seven hits since his two-game vacation in the No. 6 hole two-plus weeks ago.
But don't be fooled. It still comes down to pitching.
Baseball is a game where failure at the plate is expected, where performance is equalized by the ebbs and flows of a long season. It's a game where teams must strike, and strike often, when the iron is hot. Because at some point, the cold stretches will come.
And that brings us to pitching. The way I see it, consistent pitching is the baseline. There are going to be stretches where a team struggles to score more than three runs. But if a pitching staff is holding an opponent under five runs on a routine basis, on the nights that struggling offense does muster up some scoring, a win is likely in the cards.
That hasn't been the case with the Phillies. For much of the first two months of the season, it seemed as if the reverse was true. The offense was consistently hot, which meant that whenever the pitching staff came through, the Phillies won. But in this sport, it is hard to play that way for an entire season. Again, it is a game of failure. Raul Ibanez wasn't going to hit .360 all season.
So now, when Ibanez is hurt, and Ryan Howard is sick, and the Phillies offense looks a little more human than it has in the past -- and, at .248 for the home stand, human is a more appropriate description than abysmal -- it is the pitching staff that is the difference between a mediocre home stand and a horrific one.
Think about it -- the Phillies had ninth-inning leads twice during the homestand that closer Ryan Madson was unable to save. Right there, a 3-5 homestand becomes a 1-8 homestand. Twice more the game was tied in the ninth before they lost in extra innings. In two other games, the Phillies scored at least five runs and lost.
Not to mention that, during times like these, past failures come back to roost. Those six ninth-inning blown saves earlier in the year could have provided a little more cushion for times like these. A 1-8 homestand looks a little better when you come out of it seven or eight games ahead in the division rather than two games.
As much focus is on the struggles of Jimmy Rollins, and the injuries, and the illnesses, the fate of this Phillies team is going to rest on its ability to put together consistent pitching, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen.
Charlie Manuel seems adamant about keeping Jimmy Rollins in the leadoff spot. He was asked yesterday whether the fact that Rollins went 5-or-8 from June 6-9 while hitting sixth was just a coincidence, given the fact that Rollins has managed just seven hits since moving back to the top of the order. Yes, Manuel essentially said, it was.
Brad Lidge won't be back until Wednesday at the earlier, and might not be ready to join the team until Friday. He is pitching in Clearwater tomorrow and, if necesarry, Thursday.