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Are Phillies Fans Ready for Pitching-Heavy Approach?

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The Phantastic Four, The Four Aces, R2C2.………

Philadelphia’s’ anticipation of the 2011 baseball season was based exclusively on the potential of one of the greatest starting pitching staffs ever assembled. Millions of Phils tickets were purchased in advance by a fan base that envisioned an unstoppable set of arms.

Was it a paradigm shift for a team that formerly made its living by lighting up scoreboards around the league? Absolutely. But, winning almost 100 games with incredible pitching is every bit as exciting as doing so with offensive fireworks. I mean, baseball fans in Philadelphia haven’t reached a point where we could actually complain about the method  by which our team wins 100 games, have we?

The next few months may provide an answer to that question. But if last year was any indication, we may find a good bit of frustration winning 100 games and an NL East title with an offense that can’t perform with any consistency.

Take a moment to remember the 2010 season. Once you are finished waxing nostalgically about Roy Halladay’s historic moments, try to recall all of those games that featured a complete offensive dud by the Phillies‘ bats. There were the 14 shutout losses, the 74 games of 3 or fewer runs (including 12 straight from May into June), the embarrassing goose eggs against the Mets, and the power outage that ended the season against the Giants.Ryan Howard photo: Perez/AP

To be sure, there are teams that would love to be in the place that our $160 million winning franchise currently occupies. But what we’re about to find out is whether or not Phillies fans can be as happy as they thought with unstoppable starting pitching paired with quite-stoppable hitting.

From 2007 through 2009, Philadelphians witnessed some of the most electric moments in the city’s baseball history. We loved rooting for a team that could never be counted out until opponents pried the bats out of their powerful hands.

Those three seasons saw the Phillies among the league lead in runs scored, home runs, and slugging percentage. And everyone in town viewed pitching as a luxury the Phils could live without as long as that Liberty Bell kept lighting up in center field.

Oh by the way, that approach netted the Phillies their second World Series title in franchise history. It also powered them to another World Series appearance in 2009.

So, when 2010 rolled around, and the best pitcher in baseball became a Phillie, it was as if a good thing just got even better. Unfortunately for the Phillies, the bats started getting older and colder. The offensive woes of last season have already been discussed, but in the end, the Phils came within two wins of another World Series appearance.

That brings us back to this current season of high hopes. The Phillies are off to a good start, and seemed to be producing at the plate despite the losses of Jayson Werth and Chase Utley. It was as if the energy created by the starting pitching had invigorated the offensive lineup during the first 8 games.

What has happened over the last eight games, unfortunately, could be a sign of what the Phillies will have to overcome as they attempt to win another World Series.

The Phillies have continued to hit the ball over the last eight games. They just haven’t hit it very hard or very far. Raul Ibanez Photo: Joe Hermitt-Patriot NewsOf the 55 hits they have registered in those eight games, 45 have been singles. The team’s slugging percentage during that span is a punchless .264.

A baseball team should never be judged by eight or ten game segments. However, after witnessing the offensive decline that took place during the 2010 season, it is quite possible that the offense we are seeing recently is a more accurate representation of what this team will provide than what we saw in the first week of the season.

After all, start listing the players in the lineup that you expect to provide power and RBI’s. Then, let me know when your list goes beyond Ryan Howard.

Through 16 games, the Phillies are on pace for 111 home runs, which would be 100 fewer than those 2007-2009 averages and 55 fewer than last season. The lack of power was even discussed by Charlie Manuel this week, as the offensive minded coach struggled to accept that his team will be scratching out runs on a diet of singles.

In the end, the Phillies are still very likely to win the NL East for the fifth consecutive season. They will still produce some incredible displays of pitching dominance that will make them the most feared team in any postseason series. It’s what all of us couldn’t wait for during those winter months when we saw the starting rotation come together.

However, everything we are seeing seems to indicate that there will be a lot of low scoring wins and losses along the way. On the journey to another postseason run, there will be stretches of games with very little power and much more of the small ball that many said the team lacked over the past few years.

And we’re totally okay with that.

Right?

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  

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Howard Photo: Perez/AP

Ibanez Photo: Joe Hermitt-Patriot News