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.”
By Chris Murray