No running from questions about the Phillies offense now

Charlie the player would have loved hitting in CBP.
Charlie the player would have loved hitting in CBP. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer)
Posted: May 20, 2011

Observations, insinuations, ruminations and downright opinions:

GET IT NOW, Cliff?

On the first day of pitchers and catchers, the Four Aces plus Joe sat there like The Beatles plus Peter Best. The expectations that day were so Himalayan-high, the Phillies' front-office staff should have dressed like Sherpas.

Because a lot of the national interest was centered on C-Lee's unlikely return to the scene of Ruben Amaro's crime, he did a lot of the talking, deflecting most attempts at inducing a sound bite or two from one of history's most expensive presentation of arms.

Joe Blanton stole the show, however, courtesy of Cole Hamels' gentle reminder to the media mob that there are actually two pitchers in the rotation with World Series rings.

Something was wrong with the picture, however. All the talk was about the pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching. It was all about the high expectations being placed on three right and two left arms. We got that, but . . .

I thought it was important to hear the expectations the Four Aces plus Joe had for the offense that manager Charlie Manuel would be running out there behind them.

"This has been all about the expectations raised by this rotation," I said. "But what are the expectations you guys have for the offense?"

Lee jumped in and said he didn't understand the question. I guess I could have made it a little clearer by saying, "What are the expectations you guys have for an offense that basically sucked last year?"

So, let me say to Cliff Lee, "Do you understand the question now?" He has seven quality starts in eight outings, but is 2-4, including a complete-game shutout. The Phillies have scored an average of 2.9 runs for him. When he was here in 2009, they scored 4.5 runs for him. That is a huge difference. His offenses during a 10-year career have scored 5.3 runs.

Nails on a blackboard

So, how do you like the exquisite agony of sitting through game after game with runs scored in clusters of one and none? How about a concession stand to sell artificial fingernails to replace all the ones being chewed down to the cuticle?

Parsing Charlie Manuel is like trying to parse the Dead Sea Scrolls. But you didn't have to be a Bluegrass Scholar to read between the lines of the call-out the skipper issued after Wednesday night's streak-snapping nail-biter. Fire and brimstone is about another handful of singles away.

After all the between-the-spoken-lines insinuations that maybe there could be a better effort between the white lines, the one line that jumps from just about everybody's page:

" . . . maybe we'd better want to do it a little better."

In a baseball version of "Back to the Future," the 2011 Phillies have become the 1963 Dodgers. With Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale going 44-22 and reliever Ron Perranoski adding 21 saves to an amazing 16-3, 1.67 record, the Dodgers won 99 games despite scoring just 640 runs. The RBI leader was Tommy Davis with 88. The base stealers had 124, the home-run hitters 110.

Ryan Howard's Flea Circus is on pace for 663 runs and 123 homers. However, Maury Wills & Co. played in Dodger Stadium before home plate was moved out to accommodate more field boxes. The Phillies play in a ballpark where Charlie Manuel says, "If I walked in this yard, I'd be sky-high, believe me."

Conlin's high ceiling top 10

1. Jarred Cosart, RHP. Thrilled Dallas Green by painting both corners in 0 walk, 8 K, no-hitter flirtation in his last Clearwater start.

2. Jiwan James, CF. Adjusting well to FSL pitching. Speed to burn. Makes centerfield a small place.

3. Leandro Castro, RF. Size might be a factor, but has pop, aggressive speed and big arm.

4. Trevor May, RHP. Dominating power pitches. No contest when he pitches ahead in count.

5. Sebastian Valle, C. Listed at 6-1. No way. But organization's only real catching prospect right now has a puncher's chance.

6. Domonic Brown, RF. To borrow from Danny Ozark's description of 1970s rightfield prospect Mike Anderson, "Dom Brown's limitations are limitless." System's crown-jewel prospect must show he can stay out of the trainer's room long enough to improve his flaws.

7. J.C. Ramirez, RHP. Big Nicaraguan is starting to look like a future No. 4 or 5.

8. Julio Rodriguez, RHP. Among best pitchers in FSL so far, 5-1, 2.17.

9. Phillippe Aumont, RH reliever. Cliff Lee trade's child of scorn is much better in the bullpen.

10. (tie) Cesar Hernandez, 2B; Jonathan Singleton, LF. Two high-ceiling kids challenged by the jump to High A. Cesar has been overmatched so far. Singleton must also cope with improved pitching and shift from first base to leftfield. Just one homer so far, but time is on his side.

Double trouble trivia

I didn't have time to contact Barney Google on this one, so I hope my guy is right. Only one modern-era club has carried two switch-hitting catchers for significant time (multiple seasons).

Name the club and the catchers.

Send email to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/BillConlin.

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