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Billy Vargus does Jimmy Rollins Research, which explains Phillies' fall

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V FOR VICTORY WITH BILLY VARGUS

You’re probably aware of the numbers: The Phillies have scored exactly 14 runs in the last 11 games, Billy Vwhich is to say they are averaging about 1.3 runs per game during that time. That is tied for the worst 11-game stretch by any Phillies team since 1920. Their batting average during that time is .197. They’ve lost 9 of those 11 games. In their last 15 games, they’ve gone from being five games atop the Eastern Division to 2 ½ back. It’s the farthest they’ve been from first place since late April of 2009.

Here’s’ another number: four. That’s how many different theories I’ve heard on why this is happening. (There are probably several others I haven’t heard.)

Theory One: The absence of Jimmy Rollins.

Theory Two: Everyone is pressing.

Theory Three: Without being able to steal signs, they can’t hit.

Theory Four: Blame it on the Hitting Coach.

Let’s get rid of Theory Four right away. There’s always a tendency, whenever an entire team is going bad, to blame the coach. But Milt Thompson is an excellent hitting coach. The talk show hosts who are now trying to blame him are never at the ballpark, certainly never watching batting practice. I haven’t been at the park myself lately, but I’ve watched Milt over the years, and he’s very good at what he does. Since he first became the batting coach in 2005, the Phillies have scored more runs than any team in the National League. And let’s not forget, Milt was the batting coach when the Phillies won a World Series in 2008, and when they returned in 2009.

Besides, I’m not sure how anyone can call for the head of Thompson and not Charlie Manuel, since the manager is also a big part of the team’s hitting brain trust. But as Manuel himself pointed out, these are not a bunch of rookies, but veteran players, Chase Utley is also struggling mightily for the Phillies.the same players who won a World Series. They should know by now, after years of working with Charlie and Milt, what to look for when they watch tape of their at-bats, and what adjustment to make when they’re going bad.

Which segues right into Theory Two, so let’s take that one and come back to Theory Three later. Chase Utley  has gone 4-35 during the recent skid. Jayson Werth was 0-21, before finally getting a hit on Wednesday. Ryan Howard went from May 21st to June 1st without a homer. Clearly these guys have established that they know how to hit, so it’s obvious they must be pressing.

And, yes, those slumps seemed to evolve right around the time that the Phils got caught stealing signs with a pair of binoculars. But Howard’s a guy who’s hit more than 200 homers in five full seasons, and Chase Utley is a lifetime .295 hitter, over eight seasons. It can’t be that they were stealing signs all that time and now that the binoculars have been taken away, everyone’s lost.

No, I think the main problem is Theory One, the absence of Jimmy Rollins. And to prove it, I went back through the box scores of every game played by the Phils this season. When Rollins gets on base out of the leadoff spot, the Phils are 6-1. When Shane Victorino leads off and reaches base in a game, the record is only 15-15. So, they are only a five hundred team when Victorino gets on base. And, in the games that someone else has led off and reached base, the Phils actually have a losing record, 1-2.

Those numbers say a lot. Remember, we’re not talking about the ability of the leadoff hitter to get on base, we’re talking about what happens once they get on; do they come around and score? Does it contribute to a victory?

Victorino’s batting average of .251 and on-base percentage of .308 are not good, but they’re actually slightly better than Rollins’ numbers from last year, when the Phils made it to the World Series.

It’s more about what happens after the leadoff hitter gets on base. When Rollins gets on, pitchers become distracted, they pitch differently, and it leads to good things for the hitters behind him. They don’t have the same approach when it’s Victorino reaching base, even though Shane has successfully stolen 11 times in 12 attempts. Fortunately, Rollins is expected to return soon.

Hopefully, the return of J-Roll gets things rolling.

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Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

He can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com