Archive | June, 2011

Cliff Lee Dazzles Boston with his Third Straight Shutout, Brown goes 2-for-3

29 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

Lee Addresses the media after 5-0 shut out of the Boston Red Sox. Photo by Chris Murray

There will be no doubt that fans of both the Boston Red Sox and the Phillies will see the outcome of this series as some sort of referendum of how they might fare against each other in a possible World Series matchup.

Of course, it’s only June and there’s way too much baseball left to make that kind of judgment. Both teams in spite of their records have players on the disabled list. The Phillies just placed pitcher Ryan Madson on the DL along with Roy Oswalt. The Red Sox have pitcher Clay Buchholz and left fielder Carl Crawford is also on the DL because of injury.

What makes this series intriguing is in the contrast in styles. The Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored per game and the Phillies are allowing the fewest runs in the game. Boston also leads baseball in batting average ande runs batted in. The Phillies are tops in the majors in earned run average.

In Tuesday’s opener at Citizen’s Bank Park, the Phillies proved it was more than capable of shutting down the Red Sox offensive machine. Left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee (9-5) continued his hot hand over opposing hitters with a devastating 5-0 complete-game shut out in front of 45, 715 fans.

“(Lee) was aggressive, but they were trying to work the count on him,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He had good stuff all night and he changed speeds good. When he’s locked in, he gets the ball, he throws it and takes command of the game.”

Lee, who didn’t allow a hit until the sixth innings, it was his third straight shutout to push his total of scoreless innings to 32. He became the first Phillies pitcher to throw three straight shutouts since Robin Roberts did it back in 1950 when the Phils won their first National League pennant.

“I want to throw a shutout every time I go out there. I don’t want to give up a run,” Lee said. “Nobody’s going to go out there and have a zero ERA, you’re going to give a run. I’m not counting the innings, but I never want to give up runs.”

For the game, Lee threw 112 pitches, with just two hits allowed and five strikeouts. He changed speeds well and made good use of his curve ball.

“It’s just a matter of doing it, throwing it,” Lee said. “There’s games where I can’t command it as well and games where I can. The only way to know is to throw it more. As far as command of it, it’s probably my last pitch. I know that it’s a good pitch for me. The two pitches that separate the most for me are my fast ball and curve ball. As many fast balls and cutters I throw, it messes with their timing more than the change up. It’s a big pitch for me because of the speed variation.”

In the midst of throwing a gem on the mound, Lee contributed to his own cause at the plate with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning that scored Domonic Brown, who doubled to open the inning and then took third when catcher Carlos Ruiz who hit a flyout to right. That gave the Phillies a 3-0 lead.

“I just think it’s fun,” Lee said. “You feel more like a baseball player in the National League versus the American League. In the American League, you’re a pitcher. Over here, you gotta pitch and hit. Anything you can do to help the team win, you should take pride in it. You should take it serious and do the best you can. I got up to the plate with a runner on third and less than two outs. You got to take advantage of those opportunities. I’m trying to hit a sac- fly and I did. It helps the team win.”

Speaking of Brown, he had a stellar performance a couple of games

Dom Brown's Two-Homer Got the Phillies going against Boston. Photo by Chris Murray

after being widely criticized for not running out a ball in the fifth inning of last Saturday’s loss to the Oakland A’s. Brown was a 2-for-3 with a home run off Boston starting pitcher Josh Beckett (6-3) and a double with two runs score. It was his two-run shot in the second inning that gave the Phillies all the runs they would need.

“It was a fastball, a two-seamer that ran back over the plate” Brown said. “I know I hit it pretty good. You never know with Jacoby (Ellsbury) out there. He might climb the wall or anything. I just made sure I was coming hard out of the box.”

When Manuel and some of his veteran teammates admonished him for his transgression, Brown took it as a reason for him to get himself in gear.

“It was definitely a wake up call,” Brown said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it until I talked to Charlie about it. I was like that’s not my style of my play. I rely on everything my speed and how I go about my business the right way. Not hustling and not running balls out that’s not Domonic Brown.”

A two-run shot into the right-field seats by Shane Victorino pushed the lead to 5-0 in the sixth inning. Beckett, who picked up the loss for Boston, allowed five runs on five hits including two homers.

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Francisco’s Walk-Off Singles lifts Phils Over A’s, Worley, Bullpen combine for shut out

25 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

With Roy Oswalt on the 15-day disabled list with a back injury that might be as worse as the 33-year-old right-hander expressed it in St. Louis when he described himself as a “liability” to the team, the Phillies are once again in that position where replacements have to pick up the pieces.

Now if they can an effort like the one they got from Vance Worley in Friday night’s series opening against the Oakland A’s, Phillies fans might be able to feel somewhat better.

Worley, who had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning, was simply superb on the mound. In his six innings, he allowed no runs on just one hit with four strikeouts and four walks. Unfortunately for Worley, it was the all too familiar story of not getting enough run support from his offense.

“He threw strikes when he had to,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He had a lot of 3-2 counts, but at the same time I like his stuff.”

The good news for Worley is that he didn’t get the loss as the Phillies wound up getting the 1-0 win over the A’s in the bottom of the ninth inning in on a walk-off RBI-single Ben Francisco that drove home Shane Victorino in front of another sellout crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park.  Oakland’s Brian Fuentes got the loss.

Throughout the game, the Phillies hit the ball hard at times, but kept hitting the ball at people until the bottom of the ninth. Victorino started the inning with a walk and moved to second on a single by Domonic Brown. Catcher Brian Schneider grounded out to second on a fielder’s choice that moved Victorino and Brown to second and third. Francisco ended the game by chopping the ball over third baseman Scott Sizemore’s head.

“That’s what we all dream of as kids playing in the major leagues with two outs and a chance to win the game,” Francisco said. “We all live for that even though we’re all old and experienced it a few times, but it’s still fun.”

On a night when he found himself in several 3-2 counts, Worley managed to get through this game on guts, guile and just being determined to keep throwing good pitches. For the game, he threw 105 pitches.

“I’m just trying to be effective even if I’m not phyiscally able to get everything over for a strike,” Worley said. “I don’t like them (3-2 counts), but it’s adversity, it’s something to do. They were taking so many pitches that I tried to throw the ball over the plate and let them put the ball in play.”

The back-end of the Phillies bullpen had another stellar outing and allowed just two hits in the final three innings. David Herndon, Juan Perez and eventual winninng pitcher Michael Stutes combined to keep the Oakland bats quiet.

“Our bullpen did a pretty good job,” Manuel said.

Stutes (3-0), who had a pair of strikeouts in Friday night’s game, continues to be impressive and in his short stint in the majors has raised eyebrows and is putting himself in position to one day to be in the setup or closer’s role. He has earned wins in each of his last three appearances for the Phillies.

“When I got called up, I didn’t know what to do expect,” Stutes said. “(Charlie Manuel) has put me in pretty good situations. I really can’t complain. If he used me once every two weeks, I really can’t complain. I just try to make the most of every opportunity. I’ve been in some pretty big spots and hopefully I’ll being put in those spots. It’s early in the year and I’m feeling strong right now.”

Normally, Manuel would have put Ryan Madson in the game in the ninth to close out the game, but he was unavailable Friday because of a mysterious hand bruise or injury. Manuel said he may be available to pitch in the next three or four days. The team offered no further explanation of Madson’s injury.

A’s pitcher Guillermo Moscoso was just as good as Worley. In seven innings, he allowed no runs on just two hits and three walks.

Sixers No. 1 Pick Vucevic Could be Better Than You Think

25 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Okay, the Philadelphia 76erscame into what has been a lackluster

Sixers No. 1 pick Nikola Vucevic got better in each of his three years at USC. Photo courtesy of USC Sports Information Department.

2011 NBA Draft looking for a big man with the 16th pick and they found him in 6-foot-11-inch, 260-pound forward Nikola Vucevic out of Montenegro, who played his college ball at the University of Southern California.

Now I know some of you are going to view this young man as your typical European big man who can hit jump shots from the outside, but has an acute allergy to playing in the low post. The optimists among you have visions of Dirk Nowitsky dancing in your heads. I also suspect that the more cynical among you are thinking the Sixers have drafted another Spencer Hawes.

And yes, even more of you are disappointed that the Sixers didn’t make a bid to trade Andre Iguodala for a higher draft choice or a better player.

If you talk to Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski, he believes that he has the Sixers center for the future. Though he will likely not be in the Sixers starting five this season, he will be in the rotation of Sixers big men. While Vucevic is not an athletic above-the-rim type of player, the Sixers GM believes that the 20-year-old big man has the work ethic and the basketball IQ to be an NBA center.

“I think he’s a stone cold center,” Stefanski said. “I don’t think he’s going outside to cover fours (power forwards). He’s a stretch type of center because he can shoot the ball and around the basket, he works with his left and right hand. He’s your typical European player because he’s so fundamentally sound.”

I’m not going to say this Vucevic kid is going to be the next NBA superstar, but at the very least, I want to see what this kid can do before I go around ripping Sixers management for making a bad choice. Vucevic did have a pretty good career at Southern Cal, which means he’s played against guys like former Arizona star Derrick Williams, who was the second-overall pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

During his final with the Trojans, Vucevic averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game. In fact, he led the PAC-10 in rebounding in the final two years of his collegiate careeer. He had 22 double-doubles, ranking fifth in the nation in that category. As a three-point shooter, he shot a career-high 34 percent from behind-the arc. For his career, he was 30 percent from three-point range.

From his freshman year to his junior year, Vucevic improved his scoring and rebounding every year in his collegiate career. More importantly, he adapted to the more physical style of American basketball.

Vucevic said his baptism by fire to the more physical play of the low post in American basketball came during his freshman year in a game against Washington when he took a blow to head.

“When we played Washington, John Brockman was playing for them and they told me he was a big guy, but I didn’t actual it,” Vucevic said. “ He elbowed me in the face and that’s when I understood that this is different than it is in Europe, but it will help me.”

Vucevic said when he played back in his native Montenegro, the players he goes up against are now saying he’s too physical.

While Stefanski sees him as a better outside shooter than he is as a low post player, Vucevic himself said he thinks he has to do a better job as an outside shooter.

“One of the main things that I need to work on is my NBA three-point range,” Vucevic said during a conference call with the Philadelphia media shortly after his selection. “That’s something that can help me at the next level. That’s something that can give me an advantage with my size to extend the floor. I need to work on my body to become stronger and quicker.”

Oddly enough, Vucevic doesn’t see himself as the typical European player. He said his strong suit is his low-post game.

“I think that’s the best part of my game even though a lot of people think that I’m a big man who can shoot,” Vucevic said. “I can do a lot of different things in there. I can score with both hands. I can pass the pretty well. I’ve had to deal with a lot of double teams during the season and so I’ve learned how to play in the low post pretty well.”

And that’s going to be the big question for this man for Sixers fans. Can Vucevic handle going up guys like Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bynum, and that guy Nowitsky in Dallas. It’s one thing to average a double-double in the PAC-10, but in the NBA against more stronger, quicker and more athletic big men, it’s far tougher task.

On the surface of things, Sixers fans may look this at this pick with a few raised eyebrows, but it’s really too early to tell what Vucevic is going to do before he sees the live bullets of the NBA’s daily grind. I’ll give this particular pick somewhere between a C or C-plus with the grade subject to change depending upon his performance.

A Real Point Guard Would Have Helped LeBron and the Heat

20 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

 

If you’re reading this particular post-mortem NBA Finals column to see if I am going to j

Big Three were not enough to win NBA Finals

oin the LeBron James lynch mob and to call him a selfish choker, you’re sadly mistaken. At the same time, I am not here to praise or defend him either.

Lost in all the LeBron bashing was the fact that the Dallas Mavericks, led by crafty veterans like series MVP Dirk Nowitzki and veteran point guard Jason Kidd, simply outplayed the Miami Heat with all their  superstars. They moved the ball around and methodically and broke down the Heat’s defensive schemes. DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion did an outstanding job slowing James down and making him a non-factor in the fourth quarter, something that the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics failed to do.

 

And yes players like Nowitzki, Kidd and Jason Terry came up with the big buckets when the game was on the line, especially in the pivotal Game Five when the Mavericks took the lead for good after shutting the Heat down for most of the fourth quarter.

 

Now in that last paragraph I mentioned something about the world champion Mavericks having a veteran point guard. That was something the Miami Heat didn’t have and that deficiency reared its ugly head against them, especially in the fourth quarter where they had no clue how to run a half-court offense.

 

In Game Two, when Miami had a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were able to make their run because their defense was able to double down on whoever had the ball and force them to take jump shots. Their packed-in zone was able to keep James and Dwayne Wade out on the perimeter. No one on the Heat could figure out how to break down the Dallas defense.

 

Now, if Miami had a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, guys who know how to penetrate and find open men, I think that James, Wade and even Chris Bosh might have found some open lanes to take the ball to the basket. As much as folks say that James is unselfish and likes to get others involved, he is no true point guard. He’s no Magic Johnson. His strong suit is using his physical prowess to get to the basket.

 

Inexplicably, that was something that James failed to do in the fourth quarter in the final three games of the series. More on that in a moment.

 

The Heat seemed to be out of sync in the fourth quarter and had no one out there to calm them down when Dallas turned things up a notch on the defensive side. A good point guard figures out when and where to distribute the ball and is also a threat to score. He has the good sense to recognize the holes in the defense and find that open man.

 

In Game Four, the Heat committed six turnovers in a game they led by 11 to start the quarter. They were 5-of-15 from the field and missed 10 of their last 13 shots. Miami looked lost on offense. James did not score in the quarter. In Game Five, the Heat scored just three points in the final 3:23. It was a poor job of execution in the half-court game.

 

What you got from the Miami Heat, especially in their last three losses, was a collection of superstars that resembled a ship without a navigator or a captain. No one outside of Wade wanted to take ownership of the offense down the stretch when the games were on the line. For next year, general manager Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra need to find a point guard. They need to have New Orleans’ Hornet Chris Paul’s agent on speed dial.

 

All of this brings us back to “King” James, who now has a whole host of unflattering nicknames that decorum prohibits from listing here. His performance or lack thereof in the fourth quarter in the final three games defies logical explanation.

 

James gave his detractors all the ammunition they needed in the final three games of the series. For the entire six-game series, he scored a combined 18 points in the fourth quarter. This was after the previous two series in which he dominated both the Celtics and the Bulls in devastating fashion in the final stanza.

 

I’m not going to say that James is a fourth-quarter choke artist in the playoffs because there’s plenty of evidence from his past that says he has the ability to carry a team over the top. But his last two postseason experiences have been a mystery wrapped up in an enigma within a bizarre riddle.

The good news for James is that it’s up to him to remove the not entirely justified stigma that he can’t win the big one. It’s there for the taking if he wants it.

Phillies Getting their Offensive “Swag” Back

16 Jun

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
If the Phillies (44-26)  nine wins in their 11-game home stand tell you anything, it is screaming loudly that the Phillies have regained their offensive swagger.
In a season in which they’ve struggled to score runs, the Phillies have outscored their opponents 53-26 and they came away with a couple of walk-off wins including Wednesday night’s extra-inning victory over the Florida Marlins.
On Thursday afternoon, Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee capped off a four-game sweep of the Marlins with a 3-0 shutout.  In addition to pitching a complete game with just two hits allowed and four strikeouts, Lee was 2-for-3 as a hitter and  helped his own cause with an RBI double that gave his team all the runs they would need.
The Phillies were trailing 4-2 coming into the bottom of ninth. They tied the game on a two-run RBI single by Shane Victorino and then won it in the bottom of the 10th on an RBI single by Carlos Ruiz that scored Ryan Howard.   It was the second time during the homestand that the Phillies rallied from a deficit to pull out to the win.
With the way  the offense is starting to click, the Phillies are starting to get that feeling that no deficit is too large to overcome and they can pull games out even when their starters are having a bad day.
“I  d on’t  think we’ve ever not had it, but sometimes it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. “Now it’s starting to pick up a little bit and we’re just trying to run with it.”
One of the biggest reasons for the Phillies surge has been the return of Chase Utley back in the Phillies lineup. He has hit safely in 15 of his 20 starts since his return to the lineup. He has reached base in 18 of his first 20 games since being reactivated by the club on May 23.  Over the last five games, Utley is batting .421 with four doubles, one triple, two home runs and eight runs batted in.
“I think when Chase came back it was definitely  a big boost to us,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He makes our lineup stronger and he gives a guy in the third hole who’s a high on-base  percentage guy. He’s a guy who works the count and he’s always been one of the big offensive leaders on this team.”
Perhaps the single most important move that Manuel made to shake up the Phillies offense on this homestand was to put Shane Victorino at the No. 2 spot in the lineup behind lead off hitter Jimmy Rollins with Utley batting third and third baseman Placido Polanco batting fifth behind Howard, who bats at the cleanup spot.
In seven of their 11 wins, the Phillies scored more than three runs, something they couldn’t do on a more consistent basis in the first couple of months of the season.
“I think the way our lineup is set up, it’s made some difference, of course, but just having Chase back has made a difference,” Manuel said. “I think at times you do have to shuffle your lineup around and get different combinations at different times, especially when you’re not scoring runs.
“You have to try something until it starts working a little bit and I think that’s basically what you see now. I just think putting Chase back in there and getting our guys well is definitely the big reason.”
Howard said having the speed of Rollins and Victorino on the bases to get things going  for their 3-4-5  hitters has definitely helped the teams on their current run of winning games.
“When Jimmy and Shane can set the table, that’s big for Chase, myself, Polanco, Raul or (Domonic) Brown, all of us coming behind,” Howard said. “Those guys get on and start wreaking havoc on the bases and give us opportunities to get ahead.”

Polanco’s Four-Bagger Slams Cubbies, Halladay Gets Ninth Win

11 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report.

With Phillies manager Charlie Manuel wanting to do anything to jump-start an offense that can’t seem to get out of its own away, put Shane Victorino at the no. 2 spot in the Phillies batting order behind lead-off hitter Jimmy Rollins while moving third baseman Placido Polanco to the fifth spot behind clean-up hitter Ryan Howard..

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Polanco made Manuel look like a genius, at least for one night. With the bases loaded and the Phillies already up 3-0, Polanco took a Carlos Zambrano (5-3) pitch deep into the left field stands for a grand-slam home run to put the game seemingly out of reach.

Not only did the Phillies (38-26) come away with a 7-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs in front of a sellout crowd of 45, 602 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park, they also scored more than three runs in a game for just the second time since May 28.

“If we start hitting some balls hard and consistently like I know we can, we’ll get some home runs,” Manuel said. “I ain’t really worried about the home runs, I’d like to see us score runs. If we stay within our capabilities, we will hit some home runs.”

Whether this will signal a new beginning for the Phillies beleaguered offense remains to be seen, but to have an offensive explosion against a pretty good pitcher like Zambrano is something the Phillies will gladly take considering all the struggles they’ve had with scoring runs.Manuel said this lineup will remain as it is until further notice.

“Polly juiced the ball pretty good,” Manuel said. “He’s got a chance to stay there for a while. He’ll be there tomorrow.”

Polanco said he didn’t mind hitting behind Howard as the No. 5 hitter and that he would bat at any spot in the lineup to help the offense.

“I don’t really mind,” said Polanco,who was 1-for-3 with four runs batted in. “If the manager puts me there it’s because the manager thinks we have a better chance that day with me hitting fifth. The game’s going to talk to you depending upon the situation whether it’s getting on base or you might be hitting fifth, you might be leading off the inning and so you might want to work a walk or something.”

Meanwhile, on the mound, Philllies starting pitcher Roy Halladay put on another dominant performance for the Phillies. In seven innings, Halladay struck out nine, scattered six hits and did not allow a run in seven innings on the mound for the Phillies. He threw 106 pitches for the night.

But you can’t have an evening in this town without a few hiccups and something to complain about along the way. After Halladay’s departure, the Cubs picked up five runs on four hits in the inning off Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero. Michael Stutes put out the fire in the eighth and picked up the first two outs in the ninth inning before giving way to Antonio Bastardo who picked up the save for the Phillies.

“We ended up winning and it’s never easy to watch the other team score runs,” said Halladay, who spent some anxious moments in the dugout in that five-run Cubs eighth inning. “Stutes did a great job of shutting it down. It was a combination of him and Bastardo in the ninth with (Ryan) Madson having a day off, it’s a silver lining seeing those guys and the way they’ve been all year.

“They both got put on the spot tonight in situations where they’re going and closing out the ninth and doing stuff they’re not used to doing, they did a great job.”

The Phillies started the scoring in the first inning when Howard grounded out to a first on a fielder’s choice which drove in Victorino. The Phillies upped their margin to 3-0 on a two-run home run by rookie right fielder Domonic Brown.

Phillies Offense As Good as It Gets or are Better Days Yet to Come?

9 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

If there was ever an example of why baseball can be a goofy game, the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies have been the poster child of that time-honored story so far this season.

Even though the Phillies have the worst team batting average (.249) among first-place teams in Major League baseball, they somehow continue to win and still have one of the best records in baseball. To top it all off, the Phillies have the largest lead among division leaders.

Of course, the Phillies highly-touted pitching staff, which ranks third in earned run average, has won games and it also helps that the Phils are among four teams atop the National League leaderboard in fielding percentage.Great pitching and defense is that old Earl Weaver formula that wins games.

And so why is there such alarm in the Delaware Valley about the team’s lack of hitting prowess?This a team that goes on streaks without scoring more than three runs or even hitting a homerun. But yet the Phillies have the most wins in baseball.

Most recently, the Phillies took two games of a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In both of those wins, the Phils were outhit by the Dodgers. Pitching was the difference in both games. Both Cole Hamels (8-2) and Cliff Lee (5-5), who won the series opener, did not allow a run during their stints on the mound.

I guess one of the reasons for alarm among Phillies fans is the knowledge that over a 162-game season, the pitching isn’t going to be as dominant as Hamels and Lee were earlier this week against the Dodgers. Every now and then Roy Halladay and Hamels are going to be merely ordinary and teams are going to get a few more than one or two runs during the course of a few games.

My first inclination is to believe that the Philllies this season are about as good as they’re going to get offensively this season. They’ve become dare I say like that San Francisco Giants team that knocked them off in the National League Championship Series and eventually won the World Series. That team didn’t need to score a lot of runs because the pitching staff was strong enough to keep teams at bay.

Even with the team’s ability to win games with strong pitching and minimal run support, Charlie Manuel’s frustration with his team’s inept offensive performance this season comes from the fact that he has seen this team when it has scored runs in bunches before and that as much as you win close games with a small amount of runs, you can easily lose them as well.

“We definitely have to get more runs than we’ve been getting,” Manuel said. “There’s going to be times where we’re going to definitely need more than two runs. When I look at our pitching staff, our starters are going to be steady. They’re going to give up some runs every now and then. The back end of our bullpen has been good so far, but we’re going to have to score some runs.”

With the Halladays, Lee’s, Hamels, Roy Oswalt’s in the Phillies starting rotation, the Philllies have made the transition from a team knocking balls out of Citizen’s Bank Park onto Packer Avenue to a team with strong pitching good enough to win with a little bit of run support.

“People call it a hitting slump, I call it winning games,” Ryan Howard said after the Phillies first win over the Dodgers this week. “It may not be what people are expecting us to do, but at the end of the day what matters is did we win? If we were to go out there 14 hits and lose, people will talk about they lost the game.

“We’re finding other ways to get runs across. Homeruns are going to be there, but it’s a learning process for because now we’re finding other ways to get that run across. You have to be well-rounded all the way.”

I believe the Phillies from an offensive standpoint aren’t going to get much better than what they are right now. Though they have most of the same guys who helped them win the 2008 World Series and reach the World Series in 2009, those guys aren’t the same players they were during that championship run.

Injuries and age have slowed down guys Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez. Right now, only Howard and Placido Polanco are in the National League’s Top 10 when it comes to hitting. Polanco is ranked eighth in the National League in batting average. Howard is eighth in the league in home runs and third in runs batted in.

While fans may have to accept the sobering reality that this team might be a medicore hitting team at best, there is still a belief on this team that the bats are going come around at some point.

“They’re still great hitters. It’s just a matter of time before everybody breaks out and everybody just runs with it,” Hamels said. “I have all the faith in the world in these hitters because I’ve seen them do it and I know they can do it again.”