AND, ON THE eighth day, the Phillies hit their first June home run. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Ryan Howard launched what looked like an inside fastball into the rightfield seats. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park searched deep into the recesses of its memory and successfully recalled the old ritual, standing and cheering as the ball sailed through the humid night. It was all pitcher Cole Hamels needed in a 2-0 win over the Dodgers.
With that, we continue with the deconstruction of the team with the best record in the major leagues.
The Phillies are a team that has about a month to demonstrate that the greatest assemblage of starting pitching in the history of the franchise is not going to be wasted. It has about a month to start hitting - to allay the concerns of an entire organization, and the manager first and foremost.
Yes, they are in first place, Charlie Manuel said. But he quickly added, "In order for us to stay there, I feel like we're going to have to score more runs."
Best record in baseball, best starting pitching pedigree in baseball, complaining about the offense. I know, I know - it comes across as an arrogant exercise for people spoiled by success, like rich people complaining about taxes. So be it.
"I'm concerned about our offense," Manuel said. "I think our players know we've got to score more runs. I hope they do. I've been saying enough about it. We need to definitely pick that up if we can."
The truth is that the Phillies have become a nightly study in offensive tedium. They have only one .300 hitter on the team, Placido Polanco (.314). They have only four players with more than five home runs and one player with more than eight (Howard, with 13). In a year when offense is down all over baseball, the Phillies' numbers have sunk faster than most.
Here is a simple list. It is the number of games in which the Phillies have hit at least one home run in the last five seasons, including a projection for 2011 based on their current pace:
2007. . . 123 games
2008. . . 120 games
2009. . . 119 games
2010. . . 97 games
2011. . . 84 games
The decline is linear, and it is accelerating. And how is this for a stat: In games in which the Phillies do hit a home run, they are an outrageous 26-6.
The team that the town fell in love with - the players that never found a fence they couldn't clear; the lineup that never encountered a deficit too deep - really is no more. The transformation of the starting pitching staff over the years has been well-chronicled, but the sapping of this team's power has provoked less comment.
But the decline in power is as pronounced as the improvement by the starters. They are two lines crossing on a graph and running now in opposite directions. Pretty much every day anymore, the manager raises his level of concern.
"I've seen guys that hit in the past, and I know they can hit," Manuel said. "But I've also been in the game long enough to have seen guys hit in the past and never hit again. That's what we'll have to see."
Which raises a question: If this is still going on, say, a month from now, will some hard decisions need to be made?
"I think that depends on where you want to go," Manuel said. "If we want to go to the World Series and follow . . . our goal, there has to be a cutoff somewhere. I think there has to be a time where we say, 'Hey, we've better be getting better.' "
Meaning, well, what?
You win championships when you assemble a sufficient number of good players, and when those good players play well. This qualifies as a "duh" kind of observation, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. That the Phillies are going to acquire some kind of a righthanded bat before the end of the season seems a certainty. But other than that, it is hard to see any blockbuster kind of move.
You put this much money into this nucleus of players and you really are wedded to them. They earned your confidence, and your cash, through their performance over time. They also have demonstrated an annoying penchant over the years of waiting for the flood waters to lap at the front porch before deciding to turn it on, and that might be happening again.
So they have little choice but to wait for Chase Utley to get himself together after the knee injury, and to wait for Howard to start recognizing the strike zone again, and to hope for the power that this lineup has demonstrated in the past to be rediscovered.
Still, Manuel's quote kind of hangs out there:
"I think that depends on where you want to go . . . " *
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