When Charlie Manuel gets home from a long evening of waiting for the Phillies to make contact with the baseball - the kind of thing that can make an old hitting coach a little cranky - he unwinds by watching another game or two on replay. He doesn't usually agree with a lot of what he sees.

"I see guys chasing balls. I see guys with a 2-and-0 count going after balls in the dirt. I see guys who are dead fastball hitters, who should never swing at a breaking ball unless they got two strikes, see them chase 2-and-0 breaking balls and balls outside the strike zone," Manuel said. "Those are the things I see. But if everyone else does it, that doesn't mean we have to do it, too."

So, you can only imagine Manuel's delight Wednesday night when Shane Victorino - the very first Phillies batter of the evening - got ahead by 2-0 on Los Angeles pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and then tried to muscle an up-and-in fastball he had very little chance to handle.

Victorino topped a soft foul dribbler and, just like that, the Phils' offense was motoring along once again, with the old hitting coach grumbling in the dugout.

"I call it 'plate discipline.' Or being afraid to go deep in the count," Manuel said before the game, not picking on any particular player. "It's unacceptable. It's bad."

Those two words are accurate for describing the offense at the moment, and the problems go well beyond just the occasional bonehead decision at the plate, regardless of how much they steam the manager. On Wednesday, the offense produced a total of five hits in the 2-0 win. Enough this time, but not usually.

Take your pick among the popular theories for explaining the issue or just order the combo platter. The injuries are the problem. The creeping decrepitude of the roster is the problem. The overall talent level is the problem. The Phillies can't hit for power any longer. They miss Jayson Werth. They miss Cody Ransom. They miss Johnny Callison. Everyone has a theory.

It is probably a little bit of all of that, but with some understandable emphasis on the injuries. Four of their regular positions players - Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Domonic Brown, and Victorino - have been on the disabled list for a combined three months of man-games. Utley's still not himself and will have to be managed with care to stay on the field for the rest of the season. He didn't start Wednesday night after playing five days in a row.

Then, you've got Raul Ibanez scuffling along, and Ryan Howard being pitched around a lot, and Jimmy Rollins battling a knee bruise and, well, it has added up. The team is hitting more than 10 points below its 2010 batting average and is on a pace to hit 44 fewer home runs. And 2010 was no great shakes by their previous offensive standards.

"Right now, we don't hit the ball hard enough to score runs," Manuel said. "We went five innings in Pittsburgh the other night and didn't barrel the ball up once. We didn't come close to hitting the ball hard. Right now, we don't hit home runs. We don't have enough speed to 'little ball.' Put a clock on us and see how fast we run."

There weren't a lot of opportunities to run around the bases against the Dodgers early in the game as Kuroda and Cole Hamels blistered their way through the steamy, heavy night. Kuroda allowed only a single to Placido Polanco through the first four innings.

What passes for an offensive explosion took place in the sixth as Howard and Ibanez chased Kuroda with back-to-back extra-base hits. It might be a major-league rule that any pitcher allowing consecutive extra-base hits to the Phillies has to leave the game. Either way, after Howard drove a fastball into the first row of the right-field seats and Ibanez doubled into center, Kuroda was removed. When the Phils added another run in the seventh, that was going to be it for the night, but it was going to be enough thanks to Hamels and to the Dodgers, who have some combo platter issues of their own.

The Phils are now 13-22 in games in which they score fewer than four runs. When they hit the magic number of four runs, they are 24-3, best in baseball. It seems like an easy formula, and it is. But for them, it isn't an easy task any longer.

There are 100 games left in the season. The Phillies are comfortably in first place in the division - and have scored more runs than either Atlanta or Florida, by the way - and could conceivably coast home just like this.

The grouchy former hitting coach would rather not count on that, however. He's seen too many sure things go wrong and too many bad at-bats that become endless replays in the night.

"There's a lot of baseball left. They've got time to get all the hits they want," Manuel said. "This would be a good time for them to start."

Well, maybe when the next series starts against the Cubs on Thursday. As the man said, now would be fine.

Contact columnist Bob Ford
postpatterns