AS PLANS go, the Phillies' blueprint for scoring runs this season was pretty simple. It basically came down to expecting the much-decorated and richly compensated stars to bounce back and produce as they had in the past. It might not have been the most popular method but, hey, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. never tried to kid anybody. He openly stated that philosophy last winter and hasn't wavered since.
With the All-Star break looming, an annual hiatus during which baseball traditionally rests and reassesses, it's interesting to take a look at how that's worked out.
For starters - and mostly because of their starters - the Phillies have the best record in baseball. Which is fine as far as it goes.
The trick is to avoid becoming the 2001 Seattle Mariners. That team, you might recall, won 116 games in the regular season even as manager Lou Piniella pleaded with the front office to get him another bat. No help was forthcoming and the M's won just one series in the postseason. Instead of becoming world champions, they became a footnote.
The reality is that, for the most part, the cadre of veterans that Amaro was banking on have not, to this point, made the sort of significant comebacks that he was hoping for.
With Shane Victorino shelved, Chase Utley has the top batting average on the lineup card. Right now, it's .287, which is all right. He also has missed more games than he's played while recuperating from a serious knee condition.
But he batted .332 in 2007. His average has gradually settled with each passing year, from .292 in 2008 to .282 in 2009 to .275 last year. His home runs and RBI have gone from 33-104 to 31-93 to 16-65.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2007. Since then, his average has also steadily dropped from .296 to .277 to .250 to .243. He has been hurt a lot, too. His numbers are up slightly this season (.264 average, on a pace to score 94 runs) but not nearly what they were when he was at his peak.
First baseman Ryan Howard, the NL MVP in '06, was a career .279 hitter coming into the season. His walks are up and he's driving in more runs, but he's also hitting just .258. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was 4.8 in 2009. This year, it's 1.9, if you go for that sort of thing.
Charlie Manuel, reprising the role of Piniella a decade ago: "When you look at production, you look at the core players we've got. And their production is slowly going down the last 3 years. It just seems like it goes down a little each year. I don't have the answer for that, really," he said. "If you follow the game, and you look at the stats each year and you see a decline, yeah, that's a concern. Really, very much of a concern."
The only spot where the Amaro Bounceback Theory has clicked so far is centerfield. Victorino is hitting .303, a 44-point bump from where he finished last season. Trouble is, he was on the disabled list earlier this season with a strained hamstring and was sidelined the last three games with a sprained thumb.
The corner outfield spots have been soft, too. Phillies leftfielders have combined to go .238-11-45 and rightfielders are .230-12-43.
Now, there's still nearly a half of a schedule to turn this around, although looking at the trend over the past several years suggests that what you see is what you get. Especially since the seemingly endless drip-drip-drip of injuries isn't unexpected for the league's oldest lineup.
There's also the possibility that between now and Aug. 31, Amaro might find a way to add a righthanded bat. It says here that would still be a good idea.
Otherwise, having the best regular-season record just might do the Phillies as much good as it did Seattle 10 years ago.
AROUND THE BASES
* Star gazing: Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said it was a tremendous honor to be selected to the NL All-Star team this season. He also acknowledged that, since his stats aren't great, he was pretty surprised. "I was shocked," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "[Manager Fredi Gonzalez] called me into his office. He told me and I was like, 'All right, where's the hidden camera?' "
* The visible men: It's said that umpires do a good job when they aren't noticed. By that standard, they must not be doing a very good job. Both the Phillies and Marlins had issues with Kerwin Danley throughout the series that ended Wednesday night. Toronto's Jon Rauch had to be restrained from going after home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez last Saturday at Rogers Centre. Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a classic brouhaha with Ed Rapuano, and Rangers manager Ron Washington tartly observed that "Angel [Hernandez] is just bad. That's all there is to it." Chipper Jones called the umpiring this season "substandard."
Even Leyland later said this was getting out of hand. "The tension level is much more than it should be," he observed. "For the [betterment] of the game, something has to happen to tone this stuff down."
* Promotion of the week: The Class A Potomac Nationals gave away General Abner Doubleday bobbleheads. The hook was the 150th anniversary of the first major battle of the Civil War in nearby Manassas, Va., not the discredited claim that he invented baseball.
4: Straight home sellouts for the Pirates. The best research available suggests that it's the first time in the 125-year history of the franchise that's happened in the regular season. Or the postseason, for that matter.
53: Occasions going into yesterday when a starting pitcher still had a no-hitter after five innings. Before the All-Star break last season, which came to be known as the Year of the Pitcher, there were 43.
814: Consecutive sellouts by the Dayton Dragons of the Class A Midwest League. They can set a record for North American professional sports teams if they sell out tomorrow against the South Bend Silver Hawks, passing the 1977-95 Portland Trail Blazers.
* History major: Braves righthander Jair Jurrjens has 12 wins and a 1.87 earned run average, but he isn't getting ahead of himself. "This season is so long," he told the Journal-Constitution. "Everybody knows what happened to Ubaldo last year. I don't want the same thing to happen."
Rockies righthander Ubaldo Jiminez was 15-1 before the break, 4-7 afterward.
* Nationals debt: Reasons to think the Washington Nats might have been playing over their heads lately: Going into last night, their last 10 wins had been by one run or in extra innings. And they were 13-3 in one-run games since June 1.
PHAIR AND PHOUL
* At-ten-tion: Here's one measure of how much trouble the Phillies have had mounting a consistent attack this season. They've reached double figures in hits just 33 times in their first 88 games. That's just 37.5 percent of the time. As recently as 2007, they had at least 10 or more hits 48.8 percent of the time.
If there's a silver lining here it's that the Phils had 10 or more hits just 38.3 percent of the time in 2008 . . . and won the World Series.
* Homer, sweet homer: Of course, teams can score runs without a bunch of hits if they're mixing in a fair amount of home runs. The Phillies aren't doing that, either. Consider their home runs-per-game ratio in recent years: 1.31 in 2007, 1.32 in 2008, 1.38 in 2009.
Last year, it dropped sharply to 1.02.
So far this year: 74 homers in 88 games, an 0.84 average. Yikes.
* Big Tuna: In the current issue of AAA World Magazine, Charlie Manuel revealed in an interview that he once worked on a commercial tuna boat while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. The Phillies manager added that it's the toughest job he's ever had.
* Old friends: Two pitchers with Phillies ties will be at the All-Star Game in Phoenix next week.
Athletics lefthander Gio Gonzalez was acquired from the White Sox, along with Aaron Rowand and Daniel Haigwood, in the 2005 Jim Thome deal. A year later, the Phillies sent him back to the White Sox as part of the Freddy Garcia trade.
Giants righthander Ryan Vogelsong was a nonroster invitee to spring training in 2010. He pitched only three innings and had a 12.00 ERA. He started the season with Triple A Lehigh Valley and was 2-5, 4.91 when released by the IronPigs in July.
The Downingtown resident who played collegiately at Kutztown, turns 34 later this month, but Charlie Manuel said he's not surprised by his success.
"That doesn't shock me. And the reason is because he has a good arm," Manuel said. "He had good stuff. Command was his problem. We hadn't seen a whole lot of him. We pitched him, but he was having trouble getting people out because of his command.
"He went to Triple A but he had an out [in his contract], I think. He went somewhere else and he found it. Which is great. I liked being around him. He was a good guy. He liked to pitch. You could see he had talent."