Phillies Notebook: Minus Howard, Phillies offense turns to small ball
Now, for your latest silver lining. When Ryan Howard went down with a sprained ankle in a win over the Nationals on Aug. 1, the Phillies lost their chief source of power in a season in which they already were homering with less frequency than in recent years. Sure enough, they went without a home run in nine of their first 13 games without him, including six straight heading into last night before Jimmy Rollins broke the streak with a three-run shot in the fourth inning.
Now, for your latest silver lining.
When Ryan Howard went down with a sprained ankle in a win over the Nationals on Aug. 1, the Phillies lost their chief source of power in a season in which they already were homering with less frequency than in recent years. Sure enough, they went without a home run in nine of their first 13 games without him, including six straight heading into last night before Jimmy Rollins broke the streak with a three-run shot in the fourth inning.
But here's the rub: The Phillies entered last night having won 10 of 13 since Howard's injury, including five of the six straight in which they did not homer. In a 10-9 win over the Dodgers last week, they rallied for eight runs in the eighth and ninth innings while getting just two-extra base hits (both doubles).
Man does not live on home runs alone. And, suddenly, neither do the Phillies.
That's good news, because they likely will be without their star first baseman through the end of the week. When asked if he was targeting a date to return, he said Monday looked to be a realistic goal. There is still a chance he will come back sooner. But the Phillies know they need Howard healthy for September, and they don't want to rush him back.
"I'd rather be safe than sorry," Howard said before last night's game. "The competitor in me wants to be out there. But at the same time, you don't want to rush it back, because then it's all for naught. Come back too soon and go right back down and the next thing you know I'm done for the rest of September."
In the meantime, the Phillies have proven more than capable of executing their current brand of baseball. They entered last night hitting .290 with a .357 on-base percentage while winning 19 of 24 games, despite averaging just 0.8 home runs per contest.
Not only are they putting men on base, they are driving them in. During that 24-game stretch, the Phillies hit .272 with runners in scoring position, compared with a .258 average in their first 94 games.
For the season, the Phillies are hitting .262 with runners in scoring position, which would be their second-highest total over the last five seasons. In 2008, they hit .263 (although just .202 in the postseason). Last year, they hit .255 (.327 in the postseason).
Last offseason, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said on multiple occasions that his goal was to improve, if only marginally. And, across the board, the Phillies have shown marginal improvement in their contact and situational numbers. They already have scored 39 runs on sacrifice flies, six fewer than they finished with last season and one fewer than 2008. With a runner on third and less than two outs, they have scored a run 49.7 percent of the time, compared with 48.4 percent last season. It's the equivalent of only five more runs. But five runs is five runs. They also have converted 31 percent of their opportunities for a productive out (sacrifice bunting with a pitcher, moving a runner over with the first out of the inning, or driving in a run with the second out). Last year, they converted 29 percent of their opportunities.
One of the big factors has been Placido Polanco, who was signed largely because of his ability to handle a bat and entered yesterday leading the National League with a .325 average. Polanco has converted 37 percent of his productive-out opportunities and driven in a runner from third with less than two outs in 14 of 25 situations (56 percent). Coincidentally or not, the Phillies are 56-34 in games Polanco starts, a .622 winning percentage that is second only to Rollins' .627.
None of the Phillies' contact/situational numbers are particularly impressive when compared with the rest of the league, but they do represent marginal improvements over last season.
And that is before you consider the fact that their eight Opening Day regulars have played together in only eight games so far this season.