David Murphy: Phillies' struggles continue to mount

Placido Polanco is tagged out by Jesus Flores trying to score in the sixth inning. YONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Placido Polanco is tagged out by Jesus Flores trying to score in the sixth inning. YONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: May 23, 2012

It is the type of game the Phillies need to win, not because the opponent was the Nationals, but because the game was eminently winnable. All spring training, we heard about the nuances of the game and how a makeshift lineup would have to compensate for the absences of its two stars with some flawless play. Yet there they were, in the bottom of the third inning Monday night, with the bases loaded and their cleanup hitter at the plate, a single away from tying it up or taking the lead. And then again in the sixth, a leadoff walk followed by a double to put men at second and third with no out. If you have been paying attention for the first 6 weeks of this Phillies season, we probably do not need to tell you the result of either situation. Really, at this point, only the details change.

The defining moment came in the sixth, with Placido Polanco at third, Shane Victorino at second and Hunter Pence sending a sinking line drive screaming toward centerfield. As Rick Ankiel launched himself into a dive, Polanco walked a few steps toward home plate and watched the proceedings in the outfield rather than waiting at third base in case he needed to tag up. By the time he returned to the bag after Ankiel’s fine grab, the Nationals’ strong-armed centerfielder had plenty of time to pop up from his stomach and dissuade the Phillies veteran from attempting to score. Naturally, Carlos Ruiz followed the play with a sharp ground ball that Adam LaRoche gloved at first and threw home in plenty of time to eliminate a sliding Polanco. One batter later, men on second and third with no out became no runs.

“That hurt us,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “That set the stage. We can’t afford to not score our runs. If you are going to scream little ball and small ball, you have to score those kind of runs.”

After it was over – after the Nationals beat the Phillies, 2-1, to send them to their third straight defeat – Polanco acknowledged that he should have given himself a better opportunity to tag up.

“It wasn’t the right way,” the veteran third baseman said. “You have to be closer to the bag and do it right.”

Polanco is not the only reason the Phillies entered Monday night ranked dead last in the National League with a 37 percent success rate with a runner on third and less than two out. The most frustrating thing for Manuel must be the fact that neither one of his two most talented hitters has seized his opportunity to prove himself capable of carrying a lineup. Monday night, Pence was hitless in three at-bats with the potential tying run on base, stranding seven in the process. He entered the night hitting just .245, with four extra-base hits in 63 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. Pence has only five hits in 33 at-bats against lefthanded pitching this season, which is curious given his career .291 mark.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Victorino, who went 2-for-3 against Gio Gonzalez to continue his usual ravaging of lefties (he entered the night hitting .361 with a .395 OBP ), but who is hitting only .223 with a .299 on-base percentage against righties. Sprinkle in the all-around struggles of Jimmy Rollins, who took the night off to be with his wife and newborn daughter, and it is little wonder that the Phillies offense rarely performs as if it features eight major league hitters.

“We need some guys to get hot and start hitting the ball for us,” Manuel said. “It’s hard in a major league lineup if you only have one guy hitting?…?The guys in the lineup, they’ve got to pick one another up. So you’ve got to have some guys hitting regularly.”

Then again, you can’t blame the guys in the lineup for being who they are, and at one point Monday night, the Phillies pinch-hit Hector Luna for Juan Pierre in a lineup that already included Freddy Galvis and Mike Fontenot. At the time the move was announced, not much else needed to be said. n

Contact David Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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