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Phillies’ Offense Coming Back to Earth, Where it Might Stay For Now

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 "KEEP ON PHIGHTIN' WITH JOE VALLEE"

During the first week of the baseball season, the Phillies were manufacturing runs and playing small ball. It was almost too good to be true. So much for that offense being a question mark, right?
 
Not so fast.

In their first nine games, the Phils averaged 6.5 runs. However, since their 10-run outburst against Atlanta last Saturday afternoon, the Fightins have averaged 3.3 runs per game over their last seven games. In a complete 180 from seasons past, their reliance of the three-run homer is over. After all, how could you not expect a drop off in production when Chase Utley  and Jayson Werth are not in your lineup?

Truth be told, it’s too much of an extreme. So much to where Charlie Manuel has publicly voiced his concerns over the Phils’ overall lack of power. The Phillies have homered just 11 times so far this season. To put things in perspective, the Reds’ Jonny Gomes (6) and former Phil Pat Burrell (4) out in San Francisco both have more home runs than Ryan Howard right now. Gulp!

The Phillies got nine singles in Monday night's game against the Brewers. They could have won it in the bottom of the ninth, and they brought the tying run to the plate twice in the bottom of the 12th of a 6-3 loss. Moreover, they failed to get their leadoff hitter on base throughout the first six innings.

With the absence of Utley, Howard is much like Mike Schmidt on the 1983 Phillies pennant-winning squad: The team’s lone power source surrounded by players who aren’t consistent long ball threats, or aging players like Raul Ibanez who are no longer capable of hitting 25 homers a season. In fact, Ibanez is currently on a pace for about 12 home runs in 2011.

Although Ibanez is hitting at a .313 clip so far with runners in scoring position this season going into Monday's game, you aren't getting much from him or Ben Francisco otherwise. 

Sure, the Phils “manufactured” their win against Florida Sunday. But the truth is, the winning run scored on an error, once again Cole Hamels got zero run support, and the book on how to beat the Phillies is out: Hold their offense to 2-3 runs per game, and if the starters can’t go seven plus, chip away at their bullpen. Despite their offensive shortcomings as of late, the team IS 10-5, so we’re not going to rag on the pen right now (although it pales in comparison at this time to the Braves’ pen).

Back to Hamels. He really doesn’t need anymore pressure on him than he already has. This is going on two years that the Phils’ offense does not show up for his starts. This could take its toll on Hamels as well as the other four starters, including Joe Blanton- who managed to pitch his best game of 2011 Monday in a wasted effort.

So how does this get solved? Truth be told, it might not. Ruben Amaro obviously didn’t see Utley’s injury coming, but he knew his offense would take a hit if the team let Werth walk. After starting strong, Francisco is 2 for his last 20 (including an 0 for 6 collar Monday night). IS he really your legitimate number five hitter?  And if not, are you really going to put pressure on Domonic Brown when he returns for your power? Will Utley be your much-needed power boost if and when he comes back?

Bottom line: With the Phillies’ already high payroll, the chances of getting another legitimate power bat you can rent for a few months are very limited. They don’t just grow on trees. And even if Utley doesn’t return this year or is ineffective when he comes back, who will you replace in this lineup later in the summer?

Forget about about Magglio Ordonez in right field. He is 37, no longer a power threat, is injury prone, and hasn’t homered yet this year. Ditto for trade rumor poster boy Michael Young (although he is hitting .367).  Aramis Ramirez seems to have lost his power stroke as well (though he too has a high average of .351 coming out of the gate), and the Phillies would have to pay the Cubs part of his $14.6 million dollar salary for Ramirez to play third base  and have Polanco switch to second.

In the early going, the Phils have been fortunate enough to notch victories against legitimate NL East contenders like the Braves and the Marlins, who look like they will be in the thick of things this year as well. In saying that, averaging three runs per game over the next five months might get you to the playoffs with this staff. As the Phils showed last October however, scoring three runs per game probably won’t be enough to make a legitimate championship run, and this team as well as their fans are aspiring for much more than just a brief post-season visit.

In the meantime, Keep On Phightin'

This date in Phillies history: In 1964, Phils rookie Richie Allen mashes two titantic home runs as the Phillies trounce the Cubs, 8-1.

Joe Vallee is a lifelong Phillies fan and former Phillies batboy. Joe has claimed to have seen about 98% of every Phillies game since the early 1980's.

Contact Joe at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Thumbnail:  (Howard Smith, US PRESSWIRE / April 17, 2011)