Archive | June, 2012

Another 6-8 Tweener? Sixers Say First Round Pick Harkless Will be a Good Shooter

29 Jun

Sixers present their 2012 draft picks. From left to right: Sixers President Rod Thorn, second-round pick Arnett Moultrie, first-round pick Maurice Harkless, and head coach Doug Collins. Photo by Chris Murray

The Chris Murray Report/The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Philadelphia 76ers have drafted as the 15th pick in the NBA another 6-foot-8 tweener forward who can slash and go to the basket, but doesn’t have a much of an outside shot. That has a familiar ring to if you’re a Sixers fan.

St. John’s Maurice “Mo” Harkless (6-8, 208 pounds) has the ability, according to Sixers vice president Rod Thorn, to play both power forward and small forward. In his only season at St. John’s, Harkless averaged 15.3 point per game and 8.6 rebounds per game.

But, of course, the big knock on this young man is the ability to hit the outside shot on a consistent basis. In a spirit of sheer sarcasm, Harkless would seem to fit in quite well with the current version of the 76ers including guys like Andre Iguodala, who is 6-6 and seriously lacking a jump shot. Harkless should feel right at home.

While he shot 45 percent from floor, Harkless was 17-for-79 from three-point range and he shot just 67 percent from the free-throw line. Because he was the tallest and most athletic player on his team, Harkless played at the power forward position at St. John’s against a lot of bigger, stronger players.

“It takes a toll on you having bang down there all the time with guys a lot heavier than you. I think I handled it well,” Harkless said.

The 19-year-old Harkless said he will be working on his free-throw shooting and jump shot during the NBA summer leagues in Orlando.

“I think it’s just about getting a lot of reps up. Like coach Collins said my form is nice. It’s really about getting more reps and being more confident in my shot,” Harkless said. “I really changed my whole technique since the season was over. Now I’m more relaxed and more comfortable. I think it was about being more relaxed and comfortable. I was more tense a lot during the season at the free-throw line during the season.”

Sixers president Rod Thorn said Harkless has a tremendous upside and believe that physically they have player who is still growing in size and has the ability to play both small and power forward.

“We think he’s a great athlete that’s fits in with what we have,” Thorn said. “He’s very young, the growth plates are still open, we think he’s going to get bigger. Eventually, he’ll be able to play two positions and our feeling was, with his potential, with his athletic ability, that he was too good a player to pass up.”

Last season and during the playoffs, the Sixers lacked a consistent outside shooter, especially in the fourth quarter. Some of this will no doubt lead fans to ask the question how is Harkless different from what they have now?

Thorn said the Sixers believe that Harkless will eventually develop into a good jump shooter and seemed to be encouraged by what he did during shooting drills while working out with the Sixers last month.

“When he worked out for us, he made 37 out of 50 3-pointers,” Thorn said. “He’s obviously working on his shot. His shot, as you will see when you watch him play, his shot is fine. He just needs repetition and we think he’s going to be a very good shooter.”

I really don’t know how good Harkless is going to be just yet, but I get the feeling that Sixers fans are growing a bit weary of 6-8 slasher, tweener forwards who can’t hit the broad side of barn with his jump shot, but have lots of potential to get better at it.

“We feel the player in the long range scheme of things, we’ll feel this kid has a chance to be an outstanding player, not just another player,” Thorn said. “From our perspective this was the best player for us.”

I think this pick at the very least is one of those times when people will say to the team, really

that guy? That’s because this team, even under new ownership, seems to always pick up these 6-8 tweener forwards/ who have a ton of athletic ability that can jump out of the gym, but can’t shoot the ball.

Let’s face it that’s the Sixers with Iguodala or Thad Young can take it to the bucket, but they’re not consistent shooters. That’s who they are now.

But Collins said Harkless is not carbon-copy of Young and will be an outstanding wing player with the ability to put the ball in the bucket on a consistent basis.

“Sometimes it gets lost because plays a power forward, but he’s not a power forward,” Collins said. “He’s not like Thad (Young). I think there’s this thing that he’s a duplicate. He’s not like that at all. He’s a wing player, who can handle the ball and can run on the break.

“When you watch him shoot, his sbot is not broken. That’s what you look for. Is he a guy who’s going to be able to make shots? At the end of the day, we think he’s going to be able to make shots. He didn’t shoot a lot of perimeter jump shots at the position he had to play.”

Only time will tell if Collins is right, but he has to understand the cyncism of the fans when it comes to the pick because we’ve all been here before.

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Poor Pitching Ruins Chase Utley’s Return to Phillies Lineup

28 Jun

Chase Utley goes 3-for-5 in 2012 debut, but Phillies lose to the Pirates.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and Chris Murray Report

About three hours before Chase Utley made his 2012 debut, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies second baseman jump started the offense in Wednesday’s night game. While it takes awhile for a player to be 100 percent after an injury, Manuel said Utley’s work ethic might accelerate that process.

“It might take him a little while, but then again or he might come out tonight and start off good,” Manuel said. “I hope he starts off good, I’m pulling for him everyday. He can do that.”

Manuel turned out to be prophetic.

In his first at-bat of the season, Utley sent the sellout crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park into a frenzy when hit a solo-home run to give the Phillies a short-lived 1-0 lead. For the game, Utley was 3-for-5.

Too bad Utley can’t pitch.The Pirates scored eight runs in the first five innings en route to an 11-7 victory in front of a disappointed crowd of 44,057, ruining what was an outstanding evening for the Phillies second baseman.

“It was nice to hit the ball hard in my first at-bat and contribute early on,” Utley said. “I was excited to be out there. It’s been a long road to get to this point and I have a lot of emotions and a lot of adrenalin and the crowd really helped out.”

Even though the Phillies scored seven runs on 10 hits, the pitching-both starting and relief simply let them down. After taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning on home runs by Utley and Carlos Ruiz, starting pitcher Raul Valdes gave up a three-run homer to Pittsburgh Jose Tabata.

“When that kid hit the three-run homer in the second inning,that definitely took some starch out of us for a while, but we hung in there and battled all night,” Manuel said.

After Valdes was lifted in the second inning, reliever Joe Savery wasn’t any better. He got knocked around for five runs on five hits in two and two-thirds innings of work. For his troubles, Savery was optioned back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Meanwhile, relievers Michael Schwimer and Jake Diekman kept the Pirates off the board during the middle innings. Schwimer allowed four hits, struck out , but did not give up a run in an inning and a third. Diekman allowed no walks in his one inning of work.

The Phillies mounted a comeback by scoring two runs in the sixth on an RBI double by Hunter Pence and an RBI single by Shane Victorino. In the seventh, Phillies scored three runs to close the gap to 8-7 on RBI singles by Jimmy Rollins, Juan Pierre and Ruiz.

Just when it looked like the Phillies were going to mount a dramatic comeback, the bullpen let them down again. This time Chad Qualls gave up three runs including a two-run shot to Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

“We were a hit away and sometimes that’s what happens,” Manuel said. “Sometimes winning and losing can be a small thing where you can correct some things. But at the same time, too, that’s the moment. They say baseball is a moment and when you live in the moment, you get that hit, you make that play and you pitch. When a team out plays you, you’re gonna get beat.”

Finding a solution to the Phillies bullpen woes has been even worse than having to solve the team’s offensive problems. The offense has done its share in recent games, but finding consistency in the bullpen is a lot more complicated.

The trades for big name players Hunter Pence and Roy Oswalt has depleted the Phillies farm system of strong arms and going outside the organization for better arms will probably cost the Phillies something they don’t want to give up, namely one of their big-time players.

“If there’s a way that we can get better in our bullpen and stuff like that, I know we’re going to do it,” Manuel said. “It’s tough to make a deal right now because people don’t want to give up pitching. You can ask any organization, pitching is hard to get. If you want to trade for pitching, you’re going to pay a premium price for it. We’re going to improve our bullpen, but we’ve also got to get Roy Halladay back.”

 

Utley May Rejoin Phillies by Wednesday

26 Jun

Chase Utley met with reporters on Monday to discuss his possible return to the Phillies sometime this week.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and CM Report

With all of their offensive struggles this season, the Phillies are hoping that having second baseman Chase Utley’s bat in the lineup will be like manna from heaven.

There’s a strong possibility that Utley could be back in the Phils starting lineup this Wednesday in the third game of their four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He will be in the starting lineup on Tuesday for another rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

“We’ll see if he passes the test the way we think,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “We want to make sure that he’s ready to play in the big leagues and he’s not going to have a setback. We want to make sure that he’s absolutely, positively ready.”

Meanwhile, Utley said he is pleased with the progress on his knees because of his rehab work down in Clearwater and is optimistic that he will be even better and pain-free.

“I’m definitley getting closer,” said Utley, who worked out with the Phillies on Monday. “I’m encouraged by the way things went in Clearwater and I’m excited to get back up here.”

Utley said that as long as his knees continues to respond well and that he is in a better place than he was about a month ago. He said that after playing Single A ball, he wants to get his timing back at a level one step below the majors.

“I wouldn’t be out there if I felt uncomfortable,” Utley said. “Defensively is where I think another game will be beneficial. Just trying to get more some more rhythm and get the flow of the game back. Playing at the Triple A will be a little bit quicker than Single A.”

Offensively, Utley said he is swing is getting better every time he gets a chance to get an at-bat. Witnessing the teams’ struggles over the past couple of months, it has been difficult for Utley to not rush rehab.

“It’s extremely tough for the past month not to rush things, but I’ve realized the more I rush it, the worse things can get,” Utley said. “I think we’ve been smart about and we’ve done things the right way. We’ve moved forward in a progressive manner. I like that it’s gone well.”

Utley said he believes that he can be the hitter that he was three or four years when averaged over 25 home runs and over 100 runs batted in per year before the troubles with his legs.

“I do believe that. I think having my legs under is an important part of that. Time will tell.” Utley said. “I don’t plan on changing how I play. I think play the game the way it should be played. Play hard every single day and that’s not going to change as long as I’m on the field.”

Manuel also believes that Utley is still capable of hitting in the three-hole in the Phillies lineup. He said Utley is the man until proven otherwise.

“I think he is the guy who works the count, I think he is the guy when he’s right, he’ll hit the 25 or 30 homers, I think he is the guy who will hit .300, I think he is the guy that knock in 100 runs and score 100,” Manuel said. “Until we find somebody I think can do better, more than likely he’s going to land in that three hole. He’s earned a chance to see if he’s that guy. In my mind, he’s earned a chance.”

Even though the Phillies are five games .500 and mired in last place, he believes the Phillies will be back in the hunt for a playoff berth before it’s all said and done.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s plenty of time,” said Utley. “I know that there’s some people who have given up me. There’s some people who have given up on this team, but I’ll be the first one to tell that I haven’t given up on myself and I know our guys haven’t given up on this year. We have strong-willed guys on this team. The majority of the games we’ve lost, we have had a legit opportunity to win these games. All it takes is one good bounce our way and things can change.”

Phillies Doubleheader Loss is a Microcosm of the 2012 Season

25 Jun

LIVE FROM PRESS ROW
CHRIS MURRAY

By Chris Murray

You would like to think that all the Phillies have to do is go on a major 10-game winning streak and everything would be right in the world. But the stark reality is that in order for them to get on that roll, they’re going to have to get it right in all phases of their game.

As you’ve seen this season, the Phils can’t seem to get anything right on a consistent basis. If the starting pitching is going well, then the Phillies aren’t scoring enough runs or the bullpen is letting them down. Then you have guys Kyle Kendrick or Joe Blanton where you never know what you’re going to get or somebody makes a crucial error.”

“We have trouble and there’s no getting away from it,” said Phils manager Charlie Manuel. “There’s three phases of the game and I see it over and over. There’s pitching, defense and hitting. We’re dysfunctional at times. Two of those phases, it seems like we really can’t put together good games.”

Losing both ends of a day-night doubleheader to the Tampa Bay Rays was a microcosm of the season. In the first game, Cole Hamels pitched his rear-end off. He allowed no runs and scattered three hits, but didn’t get the decision.

“That’s kind of like who we are,” Manuel said. “In order for us to put together a streak and win five or six games in a row, we’ve got to play much better.”

Two of the Phillies (34-40) nagging bad habits-their inability to score enough runs and the bullpen giving up the lead late in the game-came back to bite them on the rear end.

Antonio Bastardo, who struggled in the eighth inning of Saturday’s win, gave up two walks and allowed what turned out to be the game-clinching three-run home run to Rays first baseman Carlos Pena.

Of course, it’s easy, not to mention absolutely right to blame Bastardo for having a poor outing the mound and not helping Hamels out. But when you don’t score more than one run, you’re a big two-run, three-run or grand-slam away from being on the short end of a defeat.

In the eighth inning of the opener, the Phillies, down 3-2, had two chances to tie tbe game, but came up short. With men on first and third, John Mayberry Jr. inexplicably looked at a pitch that was right down the middle. Instead of swinging, he ended being called out on strikes.

After pinch hiiter Jim Thome was intentionally walked to load the bases, it was up to Mike Martinez, who was 0-for-3 coming into that at-bat. He eventually became 0-for-4 when he flew out to right.

“We’ve had trouble knocking in runners from third base with less than two outs all year long,” Manuel said. “We must be trying too hard because the law of averages should catch up to you before long and our percentages will be better.”

A visibly frustrated Manuel chided the media for second-guessing his moves and sarcastically “invited” reporters to give him suggestions via Twitter. That display of surlyness is really about a deeper frustration of not having players who are going to get it done on the mound or at the plate.

In game two’s 7-3 loss to the Rays, Cliff Lee (0-4) had another outing where he walked off the mound without getting his first win of the season, but this time it was partially because of his own doing. He allowed five runs on six hits, but struckout nine.

“It’s not like his stuff is not there because it is, he’s very capable of pitching much better than that, we know that,” Manuel said. “It’s hard for me to explain it.”

Lee put the Phillies in early 3-0 hole by giving up three runs in the second. When the Phillies cut the margin 3-2 in the fourth inning, Lee gave up two more runs in the sixth inning after retiring 11 in a row.

“I do have to do a better job of being ahead in the count. With two outs, I can’t let a big inning happen with nobody on,” Lee said. “The second inning, I let things get out of hand there. I walked the first guy in that inning and led to a bad inning. A few crucial walks throughout the game ended up costing me.”

And then, of course, the Phillies awful bullpen topped off the evening’s festivities by allowing two more runs. Relievers B.J. Rosenberg and Jake Diekman combined to walk five. Rosenberg four and Diekman. Both pitchers walked home the runs.

During the course of the game, the Phillies suffered another injury when backup catcher Brian Schneider sprained his right ankle. X-rays were negative, but he likely spend some time on the disabled list, leaving the Phillies with just one catcher.

This, too, is par for the course for what is so far a difficult season for the five-time defending National League East champions.

“This year has been real tough on us because of everything that’s happened,” Manuel said. “We’ve got more problems than we’ve had in the past. Injuries and things like that have kind of accumulated. If you look at our pitching, if you look at our hitting, our offense and our everyday players, we’re trying to get by until we get healthy.”

Bullpen Spoils Outstanding Effort By Hamels in Game One Loss to Rays

24 Jun

Hamels had a superb effort against Tampa, but his team came up short in the first game of Sunday’s day-night doubleheader.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Going against one of Major League’s best pitchers in Tampa’s David Price, Phillies starter Cole Hamels dazzled the Tampa Rays by allowing no runs and three hits. He left the game with a 1-0 lead and seven strikeouts, which tied for sixth place on the Phillies all-time strikeout list with Jim Bunting.

Unfortunately for Hamels it all went for naught as the bullpen for the second straight game failed to hang on to a lead and the Phillies wound up on the short of a 3-2 loss in game one of Sunday’s day-night double header.

Price, matched up with Hamels well, allowed just one run on four hits—a solo homerun by Jimmy Rollins in the sixth. He had also seven strikeouts in seven innings. He got the win.

“It’s the best I’ve felt in a couple of starts, so it was good,” Price said. “Cole is an all-star pitcher and he has been for a while. He did what he did and it was a good game.”

Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo came into the game in the eighth inning and pitched himself into serious trouble. He walked Elliot Johnson, got Brooks Conrad on a flyoutto left, but then walked Rays centerfield B.J. Upton. First baseman Car

los capped off the Rays uprising by blasting a three-run shot to right to give Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead they would never relinquish.

When Manuel finally pulled Bastardo out of the game, he was showered with boos and cat calls by the fans at Citizens Bank Park, who were understandly frustrated with the bullpen spoiling another good effort by a Phillies starting pitcher.

After the game, Manuel was asked if should have brought Bastardo, who got the loss, into the game after he had struggled to throw 29 pitches in Saturday afternoon’s game,

“That’s our eighth inning guy and he should be able to throw three days in a row,” Manuel said. “Twenty-nine pitches is not a lot of pitches. It would be a whole lot of pitches if you threw on a second or third day. You would not be able to use him on a fourth day. If we’re going to use him like that in eighth inning, he’s got to be able to pitch three days in a row.”

Meanwhile, Hamels, who threw 111 pitches, did his part to help the Phillies come away with the win and wasn’t upset about Manuel pulling him out of the game after the seventh inning. The pitch count was definitely a factor.

“I’d love to start and finish a game, but there’s something said because it can get very hairy trying to do it for a whole season and how long you last in your career.,”Hamels said. “You have to be a lot more careful and dig a closer to keeping that pitch count throughout the whole game. You can’t have those big innings where you’re throwing 25 pitches because that’s going to hurt you.”

In the Phillies half of the eighth inning, they cut the lead to 3-2 on an RBI-single by Ty Wigginton that scored Hunter Pence, who singled to open the inning. With runners at the corners, the Phillies had two chances to score the tying run but came short. John Mayberry Jr. struck out looking at at a ball he should swung at and Michael Martinez, who was 0-for-4, flied out to right to end the inning.

The big question in that situation was whether Manuel should have lifted Martinez for a pinch hitter like left-handed hitting Mike Fontenot or even Juan Pierre who hits lefties well with lefthander Jake McGee was on the mound. That question got under Manuel’s skin when it was raised during the postgame press conference.

“You guys ought sit in the dugout with me and give me all the scenarios because I don’t think we know them,” Manuel said sarcastically. “We don’t know how to manage a game. I think you guys ought sit down with us or tweet us or something and float the information down there to me because I ain’t smart enough to get it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thome’s Walk-Off Homer Helps Phillies Beat Tampa Bay

24 Jun

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

After Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon blew his first save of the season by giving up two runs in the top of the ninth, fans began walking out of Citizen’s Bank Park and the fans who stayed were in a pretty surly mood. Papelbon got booed while walking off the mound after getting the final out of that disastrous top of the ninth.

Shortly before the bottom of ninth inning, Papelbon said he offered a little reward for anyone who could win the game on a walk-off homerun.

“I came into the clubhouse and I said, ‘whoever walks this guy off, I’ll give ’em five grand,” Papelbon said.

It took just one swing of Jim Thome’s bat to send the sellout crowd with a smile as the Phillies walked away with a 7-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Interleague play Saturday afternoon in front of 239th consecutive sellout at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“I didn’t think Jim would do it right off the bat, not that he needs the money,” Papelbon said. “I just wrote him a check for $5,000.”

Thome’s homerun, the 13th walkoff homer of his career, was the 609th tying for the seventh on the all-time Major League list with Sammy Sosa. For the veteran slugger hitting game-winning homeruns never gets old.  If you can read lips on the TV replay, Thome appears to be telling Papelbon, ‘I want that check.’

“Walkoff homers are great because your  teammates  are there waiting for you,” Thome said. “Pinch hitting is a challenge. It’s a challenge. You have an at-bat you have a day to sit on it. The goal is to work to be positive to try to accomplish it.”

Meanwhile, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel got his 900th career victory as a manager that also includes his time as the Cleveland Indians skipper.

For the Phillies, it was a day where the team found itself in and out of predicaments. Most notably the top of the ninth. The Phillies came into the inning with a 6-4 lead, but the Rays got RBI singles from Brooks Conrad and Jeff Keppinger to even the score.

At the end of the day, Thome’s home run was just reflective of how the Phillies kept fighting their way out of tough situations.

“It was a collective all-round victory today, especially offensively,” said Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre. “That what’s team is about. We’re picking each other up. Papelbon has been lights out all year and you can’t say enough about (Thome). He keeps doing it, picking Paps up. That’s what we did throughout the day, we picked each other up.”

Pierre did his share as well. The speedy outfielder usually scares opposing pitchers with his ability to steal bases. But today, Pierre put a jolt into Rays starting pitcher James Shield by going yard himself.

With his team trailing 3-2 in the fourth inning,t was Pierre’s bat that turned tide of the game when he crushed a three-run homer to right field and put the Phillies on top for good in a 6-5 win over the Tampa Rays at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“It just shocked me coming off the bat because I was just trying to get a base hit up the middle like I normally do,” Pierre said with a smile while talking to reporters. “(Shields) left it up and that’s one of the few times you’ll see me smiling and stuff coming around the bases with the guys giving me flak. I said now I’ve only hit 17 of them at least let me enjoy it for a half inning.”

. It was all part of a huge day for Pierre, who was 3-for-3 with three runs batted in, two stolen bases and two runs scored. It was just his 17th career homerun.

Kyle Kcndrick, who pitched four innings, but allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits. Phils manager Charlie Manuel took him out of the game after he threw 93 pitches.

“He definitely had a lot of runners on base, he was in trouble and he accumulated a lot of pitches,” Manuel said.

Kendrick had his bad moments and good moments in this game.

The bad moments came first. Rays jumped on Kendrick in the top of the second inning with an RBI double that scored Ben Zobrist, who reached on a single and Jose Lobaton, who walked. Keppinger went to third on an errant throw to the plate by Michael Martinez.

Rays shortstop Elliot Johnson was walked by Kendrick, pitcher James Shields drove home Keppinger on a ground out to short to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead.

The good came when Kendrick showed some mental toughness by pitching his way out of some difficult jams.

In the third, Kendrick gave up singles to Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton and then retired the next three batters in order to get out of the inning. In the fourth, Kendrick gave up two hits and a walk, but didn’t allow a run.

After the Phillies fell behind 3-0 in the second inning, Rollins started the Phillies comeback with a two-run homer to cut the margin to 3-2.

The bugaboo for the Phillies this season has been the inability of the bullpen to hang onto leads. In the top of the eighth inning, the Rays got three consecutive singles off Phils reliever Antonio Bastardo to load the bases with no outs and it looked it was going to be another bullpen collapse.

But Bastardo also showed some grit. He struck out Brooks Conrad swinging, but then allowed a single to Sean Rodriguez that drove home Zobrist.   Bastardo struck out Desmond Jennings and got Pena to flyout to right to end the Rays’ threat.

“Our bullpen did real good until the last couple of innings when we gave up three runs,” Manuel said. “Pap gave up two. Thome hit the homer to win it.”

Howard and Utley’s Absence Has Taken it’s Toll as Phillies try to Fight their Way Back

21 Jun

The Phillies have missed Ryan  Howard’s firepower. Last season, he hit .298 with runners in scoring position. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Over the past couple of years, fans on sports talk radio in this town and newspaper websites have suggested that the Phillies would be better off without a slugger like now injured Ryan Howard in their starting lineup.

That old “be careful of what you wish for” thing is certainly in full effect because not having Howard and second baseman Chase Utley has certainly diminished the Phillies offensive firepower in ways that have contributed to them being in the basement of the National League East.

“Every good lineup in the American and National League, if you go look, I guarantee you somewhere down in the order, not only do they have one power guy, but they got a combination of power guys, three, four, five, six down and sometimes in the two hole,”said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

Without Howard, you are missing a guy who has six straight years of 30 homeruns and 100 runs batted in. Last season, he batted .298 with runners in scoring position (.359 on the road). He led MLB in go-ahead runs batted in with 38 and led the National League in game-winning RBI with 23..

Last season, the Phillies averaged 4.84 runs per game with Utley in the Phillies lineup and averaged 3.6 runs per game. He also reached base safely in 91 of the 103 games he played in an injury-riddled 2001 season.Up until the last two seasons, Utley, like Howard, was averaging 25 homeruns and 100 runs batted in per year..

“You’re almost taking 200 RBI away, so the guys they have can’t make that up,” said Phillies television analyst Gary “Sarge” Matthews. “The players that are out are some of the best players that they’ve had in their history. They’re trying to maintain until they get back and hopefully, you’re not out too many games out.”

Another reason the Phillies miss Howard and Utley is their capacity to come-from behind and get big hits late in the game. The Phils are 0-27 games in which they’ve trailed trailed after the seventh inning. Last season, they won 40 games in come-from-behind fashion.

On Wednesday night, the Phillies rallied for two runs in the ninth to beat the Colorado Rockies. It marked just the second time this season, the Phillies got a walk-off win.

“It’s big anytime you come back,” said Phils centerfielder Shane Victorino. “That was thing about this team. When teams came into play us, they knew that. It was 27 outs no matter what, no matter how far you get ahead.”

In addition to Howard and Utley being out, the Phillies have injuries on their pitching staff with starting pitcher Roy Halladay on the DL with a shoulder injury. Reliever Jose Contreras is out for the year because of an elbow injury. Michael Stutes has been in the disabled list as well as David Herndon. Needless to say, getting to closer a Jonathan Papalbon has been an adventure.

And so if you believe that old Bill Parcells saying that you are what you record says it is, the Phillies 32-37 record and the fact they are nine games out of first place is an indication that injuries have finally taken their toll.

Can they make a charge for the division title in the second half even though Howard or Utley may not be 100 percent whenever they do comeback?

Yes and they’re starting to show signs of turning it around, but they still have a long way to go catch the Washington Nationals. It has to start now.

Throughout the first two months of the season, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel kept telling the Philly media that he believed he had a good enough hitting team even without his big sluggers. After struggling in the early part of the season, some of the Phillies players are starting to catch fire.

Since May 1, the Phillies have led the National League in runs scored. Oddly enough, they are the sixth best team in the National League in batting average with runners in scoring position

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, coming into Wednesday night’s game, has been hot. He is hitting .345 in his last 19 games. John Mayberry Jr. is batting .375 with seven extra-base hits in his last six games coming into Thursday’s series final against the Rockies

The Phillies 7-6 win over the Rockies might be a good omen of things to come for the Phillies.Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth and down to their last out, the Phillies got a two-out RBI double from Hunter Pence that scored Ty Wigginton to tie the game.

The Philllies got the winning run when Rockies first baseman Todd Helton failed to put his feet on the first base bag enabling Placido Polanco to reach on what was a routine ground to short. The error enabled Pence to score from third.

“Hopefully, something like this will kick start something for us to go in the right direction,” Victorino said.