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Phillies Surviving Power Outage on Offense

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It took one hundred games, but the Phillies  finally assumed their rightful Looks like Ryan Howard has his groove back. Photo/ APplace atop the National League East on Tuesday night. Now, with only three weeks to go, it seems more and more likely that we will soon see our boys in those goofy swim goggles, dousing one another with adult beverages.

If the Phillies can put away those pesky Atlanta Braves, the result is likely to be another 92-93 win season, and a fourth straight division title. But, despite the final outcome, the journey has been quite a bit different.

For one, the starting pitching has been much better. Replacing Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer  and the bad Cole Hamels with Roy Halladay,  Roy Oswalt and the good Cole Hamels has been one reason that the Phillies have been more intimidating to opposing hitters than opposing pitchers.

The other reason, unfortunately, is that the offense has been downright offensive for the majority of the summer.

Anyone who has watched the Phillies this season can attest to the offensive dysfunction the team has battled. Yet, when one looks at the team batting average of the 2010 Phillies (.255), it looks almost identical to those of the offensive powerhouses we saw in Philly during the World Series runs of 2008 (.255 average) and 2009 (.258 average).

So, if the 2010 Phillies are the hitting the ball with the same regularity as they did the past two seasons, why has run scoring been such a struggle?

The answer is simple. The ball just isn’t going over the outfield wall nearly as often.

For three straight years, fans and analysts pointed to the Phillies’ overreliance on the long ball is the team’s most glaring weakness. Now, the very thing that everyone believed would hold the team back is the only thing standing in the way of another World Series run.

You see, the thing about the Phillies is that they have to hit home runs. They were built to hit home runs. The lineup was never designed to play small ball in an attempt to manufacture offense. The 3.5 million fans that will enter Citizens Bank Park this season will do so, in large part, because this franchise has embraced the home run ball on its way to becoming one of the most envied organizations in the sport.

During the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons, the Phillies blasted the ball out of the park a whopping 214 and 224 times, respectively. Those power numbers coincided with a World Series title and a season that fell two wins shy of a repeat.

The 2010 Phillies, on the other hand, are on pace for only 160 home runs. Of course, injuries have limited some of the team’s output, but even if Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins  had been healthy all season, the Phillies projected home run total would only be 172 (based on the at-bats per home run average for those injured players this season).

That’s a deficit of somewhere between 50 and 60 home runs compared to the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Just imagine if you could distribute those 50 to 60 homers among the dozens of painful offensive outings we witnessed this season. Do you think those 11 shutouts and 23 one-run performances would have gone a bit differently? Do you think Charlie Manuel  and Rich Dubee would be planning rest days for their starting pitchers after wrapping up the division in mid-September?

In baseball, there will always be injuries. There will always be slumps, and there will always be down years. Maybe the fairy tale run that the Phillies have experienced over the last few seasons has been unusually devoid of such problems. The fortunate thing for their 2010 playoff hopes is that their starting pitching is fearsome. There are now some health concerns for the team, but the lineup is starting to show glimpses of the power we have come to expect.

It is now crucial for the Phillies to find that Autumn swagger for which they are well-known. It’s time for them to light up the Liberty Bell at Citizens Bank Park and light up opposing pitchers when they visit other ballparks.

Because let’s be honest, great baseball teams win with pitchers who can go deep into games.

It’s just a whole lot easier when the hitters go deep, too.

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net