For Phillies, hitting again is cause for concern

Posted: October 07, 2011

In a short playoff series, any hitting slump, or hitting surge for that matter, gets magnified. The fact that the Phillies are facing an elimination game has brought their recent woes to the surface.

The Phillies are not hitting in the clutch, and that's why they find themselves fighting for their lives in Friday's fifth and decisive National League division series game with the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. Game time is 8:37 p.m.

This best-of-five series is even at two games apiece, and if Cardinals manager Tony La Russa hadn't intentionally walked Carlos Ruiz to pitch to pinch-hitter Ben Francisco in Game 3, who knows where we would be? Francisco, of course, hit a three-run home run that propelled the Phillies to a 3-2 win in that game.

The Phillies banged out 14 hits in an opening 11-6 win and then led, 4-0, after two innings in Game 2, one they would eventually lose, 5-4.

Since holding that 4-0 lead through the second inning, the Phillies have gotten two RBIs from the starting lineup over the next 25 innings. They were a first-inning RBI triple by Chase Utley that was followed by an RBI single by Hunter Pence in Game 4's 5-3 loss Wednesday at Busch Stadium.

So, in a best-of-five series, could hitters press?

"Maybe," Pence said after the Phillies workout Thursday at Citizens Bank Park.

Pence, who is batting .267 with four RBIs in the series, then said he wasn't somebody who was pressing.

"No, I am just going out and playing the way I play and I will attack the ball and be ready to swing and go hit," he said.

The problem is that he's been ready to hit balls out of the strike zone, as have his teammates.

Manager Charlie Manuel suggested after Wednesday's loss and again at a news conference before Thursday's workout that some of his players are not staying within themselves at the plate.

"They [Cardinals pitchers] definitely work on throwing strike one if you look at it . . . then they try to stretch the strike zone on us, and I think at times, especially I'd say [Wednesday], once we got behind, we got a little anxious and that's kind of natural," Manuel said. "And we started chasing some balls, started chasing balls out of the strike zone."

Ryan Howard has six RBIs in the series, but his subpar showing for most of the last three games has to be cause for concern.

In fairness, Howard's three-run home run, which changed a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead, turned Game 1 around for the Phillies. He also had a sacrifice fly in that game and then added a two-run single in the first inning of Game 2.

Since then, he's 0 for 10 with six strikeouts.

Sure, if it's the regular season, nobody makes a big deal of this, but it's not the regular season, and one team is going home after Friday.

Manuel seemed irked when asked about a possible lineup change to shake things up.

"When you sit there and you're not getting too many hits and you look and you've got four or five guys 0 for 4, how much can I move them in the order?" Manuel said.

A hitting guru like Manuel says he is always tinkering with his lineup, at least in his mind.

"I know who can hit and what our best lineup is, and that's what I strive for every day," he said. "I don't know if I'll make any changes or not."

At least it's something to ponder

"I will think about it," he said. "I've been thinking about it [Wednesday] and I'll think about it [Thursday]. I'll let you know."

Jimmy Rollins (.563) and Chase Utley (.462) have been doing their jobs in the first two spots. Pence has been hitting third, and maybe moving him to fifth and Shane Victorino to third, with Howard in the cleanup spot, would be something to consider.

Yet Manuel is right about the fact that it won't matter what the order is if players keep chasing bad pitches and helping out the opposing pitcher.

Regardless, there are serious questions about the consistency of this offense, and as the Phillies are finding out, October isn't the time to still be voicing these concerns.


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com, or @sjnard on Twitter.

 

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