By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
The Philadelphia Phillies unceremonious exit from the National League Championship Series can simply be summed up by Ryan Howard striking out looking with men on first and second with two out.
Even though the Phillies had arguably the best starting rotation in baseball in 2010 with NL Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies lack of offense ultimately killed their hopes for a second World Series title in three years.
In the post game press conference following his team’s loss to the Giants, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said the Phils offense never found a groove on a consistent basis throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
“It always went up and down,” Manuel said. “We weren’t blowing people out and we weren’t really like hitting like we can. Although, we got hits at the big time in the game, I felt like we played really sound baseball. But there again, like it seemed like we never put up runs like I know we can.”
Baseball history is littered with the carcasses of playoff teams that had solid starting rotations that failed to produce a championship when their offense was struggling. You can look back on some of those Atlanta Braves teams in the 1990s that had pitchers like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, but their offense wasn’t strong enough to get them over the top.
In 1971, the Baltimore Orioles had four 20-game winners in their starting rotation, but batted just .205 in their seven-game World Series loss to Roberto Clemente and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Phillies batted just .216 in the NLCS. They hit just three homeruns and failed to produce when they had runners in scoring position. The decisive Game 6 was a microcosm of the Phillies postseason woes. The Phillies were just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. For the NLCS, the Phils were 8-for-45 when they runners on second and third base (.177).
“That’s the way it goes,” Rollins said. “You can look back and look at the number of opportunities that we had and we didn’t get it done. Sometimes that happens. You have to give credit to (the Giants) pitchers, but we’re a good enough team and we’ve shown that’s a situation we thrive in, but they found a way to keep getting us out.”
Perhaps the hardest pill for Phillies fans to swallow was that Howard, who hit 31 homeruns with 108 runs batted in, failed to drive in any runs during the six-game series with San Francisco. Oddly enough, he batted .318 during the six-game series. But having a nice batting average doesn’t mean anything if you don’t produce runs.
Game 6 was symbolic of their inability to come up with the big hit to put them over the top in the NLCS. After scoring two runs in the first inning, the Phillies had runners in scoring position in the third, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings and did not score. It is equivalent to a football team reaching the red zone that many times and not scoring. It was no doubt the most frustrating aspect of this series for the Phillies.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time we were still getting by,” Howard said “We’re a good hitting team with a really explosive offense, but it just wasn’t there. It’s kind of hard to explain. You have to give it up to the Giants.”
In retrospect, the injuries to players like Rollins (hamstring and calf) Howard (ankle) , and Chase Utley (thumb) seemed to have taken the team out of their rhythm. After those players were injured, they weren’t the same and at times their production suffered. Yet, they played well enough to overcome a seven-game deficit in July and win the National League East.
“It really depends on the type of injury and we’ve had some injuries that affected a lot of what you do playing the game,” said Rollins, who missed a career-high 74 games in 2010. “My legs, my game is speed. To hit, you have to stand on your legs. When you get injured, especially in the lower half, you have to find ways to play without it hurting and that can lead to bad habits.”
The Phillies lost three of the four games by just one run. Aside from Matt Cain’s 3-0 shutout in Game 3, the Phillies lost three games by one run. It was the Giants who came up with the big hits when they needed them, something the Phillies would often do to their opponents in the postseason.
Rightfielder Cody Ross, who was cut by the Florida Marlins in August, hit two homeruns off Halladay and three for the series. Juan Uribe’s two-out eighth-inning put the Giants ahead for good in Game 6 and his sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 put the Phillies in the deep hole from which they never recovered.