IN SOME WAYS, the concern is understandable. After all, we aren't dealing with your run-of-the-mill major league offense here. These are the big, bad home-run-hitting, rawhide-splitting Philadelphia Phillies. Charlie Manuel didn't rise through the coaching ranks churning out pitchers. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins didn't win MVPs because of the velocity on their fastballs. The Phillies haven't heaped dumptruck loads of cash on their shiny batting order in hopes of winning low-scoring games.
So the questions that have arisen about the infamous offense at One Citizens Bank Way, which in its last 16 games is hitting just .237 with a .303 on-base percentage and averaging 4.3 runs, are natural.
But club sources have confirmed multiple times over the last 2-plus weeks that, hey, that's baseball. While they may sound trite in confirming the identity of the sport that they are playing, those sources - hey, we'll name them: Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Manuel, and just about everyone else who goes to work dressed in red - are correct.
Hitting is an act of failure, a craft where a 30 percent success rate will get you plaques and parades and a spot in the Hall of Fame. And, right now, the Phillies are failing.
But the beauty of baseball is the opportunity it provides to inflict failure on opponents by way of a dirt mound and a strip of rubber. Overall success, measured in wins and losses, rides on a team's ability to inflict enough failure on opponents to counteract the inevitable ebbs and flows of offensive success and offensive failure that are a natural part of any season.
Because very few baseball teams will hit .300 and average six runs per game for an entire season, the only way to go wire-to-wire while continually building a first-place lead is to get consistent pitching.
And that is where the Phillies have struggled.
Exhibit A: The Dodgers
Since May 28, the Dodgers have hit .249 while averaging a paltry 3.3 runs per game. They have hit 0.8 home runs per game and reached base a shade under 32 percent during that stretch. Yet LA enters tonight having won 13 of those 22 games, improving from 33-15 to 46-24 while maintaining an eight-game lead in the National League West. Five of those 13 wins have come in games in which they have scored three runs or fewer. None of those nine losses has come in a game in which they have scored more than four runs.
Exhibit B: The Phillies
Since June 4, the Phillies have hit .237 while averaging 4.3 runs per game. They have hit 1.4 home runs per game and reached base a shade over 30 percent of the time during that stretch. Unlike the Dodgers, however, the Phillies enter tonight having lost 11 of those 16 games, falling from 32-30 to 36-31. Only one of those five wins has come in a game in which they have scored three runs or fewer - against the Dodgers in the first game of that stretch, coincidentally (on the season, they are 1-22 in such games). Four of the 11 losses since June 4 have come in games in which they have scored five or more runs.
Several times over the past few days, Manuel has publicly rued the fact that the Phillies' offense and pitching can't seem to get on the same page. Even when the Phillies do score runs, it seems the opponent scores more (an 8-7 loss to Toronto; an 11-6 loss to the Red Sox). And when their pitchers stifle an opponent, it seems the Phillies are stifled more (a 2-1 loss to the Orioles; a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers).
But that is the perception that often arises when a pitching staff is inconsistent. The more games in which a staff allows a large number of runs, the more opportunities there are to lose a game despite decent offensive production. And, particularly during an offensive downturn, the fewer games in which a staff allows a small number of runs, the smaller number of those games they will likely win.
During the Dodgers' 22-game stretch, opponents have scored more than four runs six times. During the Phillies' 16-game stretch, opponents have scored more than four runs nine times.
For sure, the offense has struggled lately. And the lack of production from 2007 MVP Rollins at the leadoff spot remains a concern.
But when the offense sputtered last season, hitting .248 and averaging 4.6 runs per game in the final 93 games of the season, it was the pitching staff's 3.94 ERA during that stretch that enabled them to make the playoffs.
Whether the improvement comes internally (the return of Brad Lidge and Scott Eyre from injuries should help) or externally (we are just now entering the trading season), the Phillies know it must come from somewhere. *