MY GOODNESS, it's starting to get deep around here. The Phillies' power grid goes dark for a couple of weeks and next thing you know the suggestion box is overflowing. This epic slump has spawned more conspiracy theories than the Warren Commission.
Some have helpfully noted that it's imperative to get shortstop Jimmy Rollins off the disabled list. Nine out of 10 doctors agree, however, that yelling, "Get better right now!" at his strained calf won't accelerate the healing process.
Some want to drastically shake up the lineup, make blockbuster trades or put top prospect Domonic Brown on a white horse and have him ride in from Double A Reading to save the day. From left to right: No matter how you arrange slumping hitters they're still slumping hitters, this isn't a rotisserie league and putting a 22-year-old in the position of being perceived as the savior for a roster of well-compensated veterans hardly seems fair.
Some suspect that there is a direct link between Binoculargate and the lack of production. That doesn't explain how the Phillies then went to Milwaukee and scored 23 runs during a weekend sweep, though. Or why they came home, where any spy system would theoretically be embedded and much more difficult to detect, and struggled after putting up a 12-spot against the Pirates in the opener of the homestand.
Some believe the hitters' swings were messed up by having to face back-to-back knuckleballers in Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey. Or that it's all hitting coach Milt Thompson's fault (conveniently ignoring that, until the middle of May, the Phillies had been tops in the league in most major offensive categories). Or want to point a finger at role players like Greg Dobbs and Wilson Valdez. Which is just doodling in the margins.
The fact that Shane Victorino became peevish after Wednesday's loss in Atlanta when asked about the team having scored just 14 runs in the last 11 games, shortly after manager Charlie Manuel's lengthy monologue about complacency, big-headedness, cockiness and the downside of success, lent an air of crisis to the whole situation.
Really, though, it's not that complicated. The solution is obvious.
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
They are the engine room, the 3-4 hitters in a lineup loaded with All-Stars. They have the longest tenure of any players on the active roster. Nobody has a lengthier contract. Utley is signed through 2013, Howard is committed through 2017.
They also are both in massive slumps. During the Phillies' skid, Utley is hitting .143 with two extra-base hits and one RBI. Howard is hitting .150 with one extra-base hit and three RBI.
That's not a criticism. That's not a knock. That's not a suggestion that they aren't trying their best.
That's just facts.
Ya gotta believe, sooner or later, both will snap out of it. "I know Utley's going to hit. I know Howard's going to hit," Manuel said after the latest offensive meltdown, adding that he has daydreamed about how happy he will be when the second baseman returns to his norm.
Utley and Howard have plenty of company in the doldrums. Jayson Werth, another big cog in the lineup, has been ice cold. Victorino and Carlos Ruiz have been mired in slumps as well.
It's a team game. Lack of hitting, like hitting, is contagious. Every hitter is impacted by what the guys ahead of him and behind him are doing. All true.
But when it comes right down to it, Utley and Howard have to hit. If they don't, the Phillies probably aren't going to win anyway. It's that simple.