Inside the Phillies: Phillies' stars not doing much right now

Ryan Howard is hitting for average, but his home run total is way off so far. The Phils aren't jumping on other teams this year as they have in the past.
Ryan Howard is hitting for average, but his home run total is way off so far. The Phils aren't jumping on other teams this year as they have in the past.
Posted: July 04, 2010

PITTSBURGH - Shane Victorino used the word ambush. That, he said, was what the Phillies' offense could do to opponents in the past, when all facets were clicking.

"We haven't done that this year," Victorino said.

Yes, injuries have kept the Phillies from having their full lineup together for a great deal of this first half. But that's not the whole problem.

Take the first two lifeless days against the Pirates this weekend, for example: Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino were 5 for 35 in the two games. Wilson Valdez, Dane Sardinha, and Greg Dobbs were 7 for 20.

The backups were doing just fine.

As the Phillies reach the halfway mark of the 2010 season, in pursuit of a third straight National League pennant, much of the talk will center on the injuries. Yes, the Phillies have seven players on the disabled list, including Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Carlos Ruiz. No doubt the Phillies miss those three players, especially Utley, who probably won't play again until September.

The rumor mill will churn with possibilities for the Phillies to improve their infield - perhaps Ty Wigginton of the Orioles, Seattle's Jose Lopez, or even Kelly Johnson from Arizona.

None of these players, or any other infielder the Phillies could possibly acquire, will save the season.

That onus falls on the current roster.

"We're not the only team that has injuries," Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, the only Phillies executive on the road trip, said last week. "We've got a tremendous amount of talent still out on the field."

It's Proefrock's job to say that, of course. No doubt the Phillies have explored every trade option in the last few days, but they are far from being in a position of strength in negotiations. A front-office executive won't publicly express how desperate the team is.

Still, Proefrock is right. Rollins has struggled since his return. Victorino (.765 OPS) is well off the pace of his last two seasons. Werth has been the best Phillies regular, but he has been streaky of late. With each passing day, Ibanez looks more and more lost at the plate.

Howard could finish with his highest batting average since his MVP season of 2006, but he is on pace for the fewest home runs in his major-league career when playing a full season.

Injuries are far from an excuse right now.

They aren't for the Boston Red Sox. With 10 players - including five former all-stars - on the disabled list, the Red Sox entered play Saturday just a half-game behind the Yankees in the toughest division in baseball.

It can be done.

Then again, injuries can also be debilitating. The Mets had 20 players spend time on the disabled list in 2009 and wilted.

"The Mets last year fell apart because they were losing, and they couldn't get their players back," Manuel said. "They didn't get them back. The key to that, the guys they plug in there, they got to support - how much I don't know - but they got to support. The guys they were counting on have to do a little more and they have to keep it there.

"If you start losing every day, pretty soon you become a losing team and you sink. That's what happened to the Mets - they never got their players back. If we don't get any of our players back, we can be hurting."

Here's the thing: The Phillies did get one of their injured players back. When Rollins returned from his second stint on the disabled list, on June 22, his teammates and team officials billed it as the boost the Phillies so desperately needed to end their swoon.

In the 11 games since Rollins' return (not including Saturday night), the Phillies are 6-5. When Rollins came back, the Phillies were in the middle of an 11-game stretch in which they averaged 6.8 runs per game, declaring the end of a monthlong offensive slump.

But was it merely an aberration?

Entering play Saturday, the Phillies had a .258 batting average - the same as the 2009 team posted. The hits just haven't counted for as much as they did a season ago.

In 2010, the Phillies' slugging percentage is 34 points lower than it was in 2009.

Look no further than Ibanez and Howard for an explanation.

Through 79 games in 2009, the two combined for 42 home runs and 119 RBIs. This year? A total of 21 homers and 91 RBIs. Few expected Ibanez to equal his career-high slugging percentage from 2009. Instead, the compensation in power would come from across the lineup.

That hasn't happened.

For the most part, the Phillies are married to this roster. Other than a trade for an infielder or another midlevel starting pitcher, this roster likely is what it is.

There are no internal options for improvement besides bringing up top prospect Domonic Brown and sticking him in the outfield - an event that was highly improbable at the start of the season. But should the Phillies continue to flounder, pressure to insert Brown, who is already mashing triple-A pitching, will grow.

These regulars are the ones who put the Phillies on top of the NL East, and they are the players with whom the Phillies will live or die in 2010.

Though the core remained the same from the previous season, Rollins said something was missing in the clubhouse, given all of the injuries.

"It's a little different," Rollins said Friday. "Fortunately we've always been a healthy ball club. We might lose one guy, but it's usually not one guy after another guy. All those people bring something different to the table. You can definitely tell when their personality is missing, no matter who that guy is."

On his way out, Valdez walked by Rollins. The shortstop, grasping for something positive, pointed to the Phillies' new second baseman, who was 7 for his last 14 at the time.

"But my man right here," Rollins said, "he's got some swag."

It's time for the regulars to find some, too.

Inside the Phillies:

Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb, at

Blog response of the week

Subject: Utley out at least eight weeks; Polanco doesn't need surgery.

Response from Six Speed at 6:12 p.m. Thursday: Ripped off the bone? Sounds like KFC.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at 215-854-2928 or Follow on Twitter at

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