Phils' scoring slump: Dearth of a new era

Ryan Howard can be expected to heat up somewhat.
Ryan Howard can be expected to heat up somewhat. (Associated Press)
Posted: April 29, 2011

ON A DAY this week when atmospheric conditions turned Arizona's Chase Field into a launching pad, the Phillies scored a bunch of runs. Gave them a grand total of 13 in consecutive games. Well, whoopie doo. Break out the noisemakers and the streamers. Happy days are here again.

Probably not . . .

The nature of the baseball season is that there will be ups and downs. And (insert standard boilerplate disclaimer here) it's still so very early in the schedule.

The gathering suspicion, though, is that what you've seen is pretty much what you're gonna get. That all that speculation that the Phillies would not generate the kind of Big O to which the sellout crowds and rabid followers had become accustomed is coming true right in front of our eyes.

Think about it. They went 14 straight games without scoring more than four runs before Tuesday and that was practically historic. Press-box pal Clem Comly, co-chairman of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) statistical analysis committee, points out that only four times in franchise history have they consistently scored so little for a longer stretch.

They had a 15-game streak in July/August 1902. Sixteen-game streaks in September 1968 and June/July 1942. The club record is 24 straight in April/May 1971. (The major league record is 26, done four times, most recently by the 1969 California Angels.)

To expand that, Comly found only 255 occasions from 1871 to 2010 when a team went at least 14 games with four or fewer runs. Only 10 times did those clubs have a winning record in that span; the Phillies were 9-5.

Which creates an interesting litmus test. Half full: The pitching is good enough for the team to not only survive, but prosper, through long offensive lulls. Half empty: This is a fatal flaw that will catch up with them eventually.

Anyway, here are a few other reasons not to hold your breath and wait for your 2011 Phillies lineup to magically morph into the 2007 version:

* Yes, losing Jayson Werth to free agency has made a difference. And he ain't coming back.

* Yes, losing Chase Utley to knee tendinitis has made a difference. He'll probably come back at some point. He's a really good player, but he's not a cure-all. Anybody who thinks he'll singlehandedly transform the offense needs to take a deep breath. Or something stronger.

And while nobody really wants to think about this, even when he returns there's no way to know how long his knee will hold up under the constant pounding of playing every day.

* Maybe Domonic Brown can help when he completes his rehab assignment. Maybe. But as talented as he is, he's still unproven. It would be really unfair to look at him as some sort of savior, too.

* It's not just the Phillies. According to STATS Inc., scoring has been steadily declining across baseball over the past 5 years. And going into play yesterday, big-league clubs were averaging 4.31 runs per game. That's the lowest March/April number since 1992.

Look, this isn't all gloom and doom. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard should heat up as the summer goes along. Raul Ibanez has to be better than he's shown so far. If he's not, somebody else eventually will be in leftfield. Maybe, somehow, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. can squeeze the payroll enough to add another hitter.

Most important, as long as the starting pitching stays healthy, the feeling here is that they still have as good a chance as anybody to go to the World Series and even win it.

Just don't expect this team to go out and score tons of runs. Sometimes it will happen. More often it probably won't. Don't fret it, don't sweat it. Just accept the new normal and enjoy the rest of the season.

AROUND THE BASES

 TWEET, TWEET: Ozzie Guillen might be wearing out his welcome on the South Side of Chicago, but the White Sox manager remains hugely entertaining. After being thrown out of Wednesday's game in New York, Guillen went back to his office and - what else? - accessed his Twitter account. "This one going to cost me a lot money this is pat(h)etic," he tweeted before the inning was over. Later he added, "Today a tough guy showed up a(t) yankee stadium," an apparent reference to home-plate umpire Todd Tichenor, who had given him the thumb.

HOME COOKING: The Chicago Tribune took a look at how many homegrown players each organization has brought into the majors and turned into established players (three seasons on active rosters) since the start of the 2001 season.

Most: Rockies (16), Twins (12), Angels (11), A's (10), Cubs (nine) and Phillies, Indians, Brewers, Pirates, Braves, Diamondbacks and Dodgers (eight).

Fewest: Tigers, Orioles, Reds, Astros and Cardinals (six), Mariners and Nationals (five), Yankees, Mets and Padres (four) and White Sox (one).

HELL HATH NO FURY: Like a broadcaster scorned. Longtime Astros announcer Milo Hamilton ripped into former Houston favorite Lance Berkman, who is off to a hot start with the Cardinals, during a radio interview this week. "Why did you think it wasn't necessary to get in shape your last couple years as an Astro?" the 83-year-old Hall of Famer asked rhetorically. "And now a team you didn't even know, a manager you didn't play for, you felt it was your responsibility to get in great shape?"

Berkman, who was traded to the Yankees last year and signed with St. Louis during the offseason, has reportedly lost 20 pounds, but he said that to suggest that he wasn't in shape in 2010 is a "misrepresentation."

BY THE NUMBERS: 4: Bases-loaded walks for Mariners DH Jack Cust already this season. 7: Blown saves for the Cardinals' bullpen in the first 24 games. 15: Rainouts in Major League Baseball. Last April there were only three. 17: Size shoe worn by A's reliever David Purcey, largest in team history. 19: Waiver claims made by Pirates GM Neal Huntington in his 3-plus years. 628: Straight Tampa Bay Rays games started by a pitcher who hasn't reached his 30th birthday. That's just 18 short of the record set by the 1970-74 Montreal Expos.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Twins catcher Joe Mauer, to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, on what it's like to open a check for $1.92 million every 2 weeks during the season: "I don't know, they're direct deposit."

PHAIR AND PHOUL

 * The exes: Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell came to the Phillies from the Mets in the same June 1989 trade that sent Juan Samuel to Shea Stadium. These aren't the best of times for those former teammates. And we're not just talking about Dykstra being jailed for a charge of bankruptcy fraud and then reportedly bailed out by that noted paragon of clean living, Charlie Sheen, either.

McDowell, now the Atlanta Braves' pitching coach, is also in trouble, accused of brandishing a bat and directing anti-gay slurs at fans in San Francisco. There have already been demands that he be fired.

McDowell quickly apologized, so it's obvious that there is some basis for the charges. But it's just as clear that he didn't randomly pick a fight with people he doesn't even know. He must have been responding to something that was yelled at him first.

Sadly, the rule of thumb these days seems to be that fans have unlimited immunity to say anything they want to players, coaches and managers. And those in uniform are expected to smile and take it. That's not right. McDowell was wrong. The bet here is that the fans were, too.

* The perfectionist: It's been duly noted that Roy Halladay is pretty intense about whatever he does, and here's just another example. While pitching for the Blue Jays, and getting only 38 at-bats because of the designated hitter, he didn't get much of an opportunity to practice bunting. Last season, his first in the NL, he had only two sacrifices in 92 at-bats.

He has three in just 11 at-bats already this season.

* The Boop file: Everybody knows that Ryan Howard struck out four times at San Diego last Thursday and followed it up with another golden sombrero Saturday. Everybody knows that the Phillies won both those games anyway. But only our own Bob Vetrone Jr. figured out that Howard has 20 four-whiff regular-season games in his career . . . and that the Phillies are 12-8 when it happens.

* Time flies: Two major league teams (Rockies, Rangers) opened the season with 13 pitchers on the active roster. The Phillies will have used 15 pitchers this year after Vance Worley starts tonight against the Mets, and it's not even May yet. Forty years ago, in 1971, the Phils used 14 pitchers. For the entire season.

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