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.”