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.

 

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