Bob Ford: Offense is the problem

Posted: October 17, 2010

All right, now the numbers are starting to add up a little, like the leaves that fall quietly from the trees and suddenly there is a stack of them there on the lawn.

The Phillies have played four postseason games and scored a total of 16 runs, seven of which came in a game when the Cincinnati Reds decided to leave their gloves in the dugout. They have 28 hits in those four games and are batting .212.

This isn't a lull any longer, a momentary downturn, a hiccup as the postseason begins. This is a slump and if it doesn't end Sunday night against Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants, then you can take the World Series ticket money and invest it in bean curd futures.

"Yeah, I'm concerned with that. We struck out what, 12-13 times. We've got to hit better," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We're capable of doing it. We just have to do it."

There's nothing particularly shameful about getting shut down by Tim Lincecum, the Giants' starter in San Francisco's Game 1 win. It happens to teams all the time. It doesn't have to happen, however, on a night when Lincecum couldn't throw his fastball for a strike most of the game, which was the case on Saturday.

The Phillies didn't get to Lincecum, not because it wasn't possible to get to him. They just didn't do it, and they wasted a start from Roy Halladay that was perfectly serviceable and would have been good enough for the win if they had put a couple of more runs on the scoreboard.

Halladay had just about the same day as Lincecum, really, but just had worse luck. He gave up two home runs, as did Lincecum, but didn't get lucky when Raul Ibanez went to the warning track in left center in the sixth inning and couldn't come up with a catch on a Pat Burrell drive that might not even have hit the wall if Ibanez didn't get in the way. One run scored on that double and another when Juan Uribe followed with a base hit.

So, a pair of somewhat cheap two-out runs score, and what could have been a 3-2 win became a 4-3 loss. It happens. Phillies' fans with time to kill until Sunday's game can decide whether Burrell would have caught Burrell's hit, and ponder the weird juxtaposition of the two leftfielders from recent postseasons. (Here's one vote: Burrell wouldn't have gotten within 10 feet of it.)

The loss is next to Halladay's name, but it should be spread around the lineup. The Phillies were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, and didn't put one on base in scoring position after the third inning.

There were those two bright flashes of lightning when Carlos Ruiz homers in the third inning, and when Jayson Werth crushed one the opposite way with Chase Utley on first in the sixth. Otherwise, it was very quiet and the leaves are stacking up on the lawn. At the moment, the top two hitters in Charlie Manuel's batting order are 5-for-31 (.161) in the playoffs.

Just for laughs, and just to keep the season alive, it might be time to switch things up a little bit. It's hard to lobby for returning Jimmy Rollins to the top of the batting order – he's 1-for-15 in the postseason – but what's the alternative? Rollins likes leading off, he's more comfortable leading off, and he hit .297 against lefthanders during the regular season.

When Manuel was asked about the lineup before Saturday's opener, and specifically about using Victorino in the leadoff spot he said, in part, "He's done pretty good there and we've been winning . . ."

True enough, but now the Phillies have lost a playoff series opener for the first time since 2007 and there's no more wiggle room. Even if Roy Oswalt comes through in Game 2, the Phillies will have to win a game on the road just to see Citizens Bank Park again, and that's never a good feeling.

"I'll think about that. I'll think about a lot of things tonight," Manuel said after the game, asked above returning Rollins to the top of the order. "We got to find a way to put together more offense."

It's not time to panic, but it is time to figure out a way to jump start things on the offensive side. A little bit of juggling can't really hurt. Not when the team is batting .212 and letting decent pitching performances gain them nothing. Not when the next loss – if it arrives immediately – would sound such a solemn note.

We talk about pitching, and talk about pitching, and it is what gives the Phillies a chance to win on most nights, which is a refreshing change. The challenge in winning another championship will be in taking that chance and doing something with it.

Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842


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