Phillies are powerless to stop Reds

Posted: August 22, 2012

About 45,000 people received Hunter Pence bobbleheads Tuesday upon entering Citizens Bank Park, and the dolls served as the latest cruel reminder of what was not in 2012. Pence, dealt three weeks earlier to join a pennant race, remains the Phillies leader in home runs.

One big swing never arrived Tuesday. A packed stadium watched Cliff Lee toy with one of the best offenses in baseball only to stumble. There were two rallies, two bullpen disasters, and a 5-4 loss to Cincinnati was the nightmare track on repeat.

The Reds showed off their muscle with two backbreaking home runs, against Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon. To twice tie it in the later innings, the Phillies needed five hits and a walk. They twice stranded the go-ahead run on third.

Each time, the Reds responded with one swing to deflate a ballpark.

It's a recurring theme: The Phillies have allowed 17 more home runs than they've hit in 2012. Power is not simply measured in home runs. The Phillies had a slugging percentage just below the National League average entering Tuesday. They ranked eighth in home runs.

"I'm concerned about the runs," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I don't care how we score them."

Pence had 17 homers when he was traded and it's possible he will finish the season on top despite not playing a third of it in Philadelphia. Carlos Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins are tied for second with 14 apiece.

Even if Ruiz or Rollins surpasses Pence, it's unlikely any Phillies hitter will reach the 20-homer mark. The last time that failed to happen in a non-strike-shortened season was 1990, when Von Hayes led a 77-85 team with 17 homers.

It's incredible, considering that just three years ago, the Phillies had five players who bashed 20 or more home runs.

Of course, provided a full season, Chase Utley or Ryan Howard could eclipse that barrier. Injuries robbed them of that opportunity. There are no guarantees that Utley, who has failed to play in more than 115 games during each of the last three seasons, can do it in 2013. Howard has shown a better stroke of late, but his slugging percentage experienced a precipitous drop even before the ruptured Achilles.

Manuel believes both Utley and Howard will hit long balls. Then he scans the rest of the lineup and sees uncertainty.

"We definitely need power from the five, six, seven hitters," Manuel said.

With two outfield holes and an unknown third baseman, that is where the Phillies can upgrade this winter.

It's not that home runs are always expensive. Take, for example, the stark contrast on Tuesday. Manuel fielded a lineup that had hit a total of 50 home runs in 2012 while earning $50 million in salary. Cincinnati's cleanup hitter was Ryan Ludwick, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal last winter. He has 25 home runs.

The Phillies passed on corner outfielders Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham, who have hit 26 and 31 home runs, respectively. Kubel will make $16 million over two years and Willingham is owed $21 million over three seasons.

Instead, the Phillies committed a large chunk to a closer. Manuel said Papelbon was "bushwhacked" by 27-year-old shortstop Zack Cozart in the ninth. Papelbon admitted to overthinking. He expected Cozart, the leadoff hitter, to take the first pitch. It was an elevated fastball.

"I was out there over-analyzing," Papelbon said. "That's not what is going to work for me."

That, plus 26-year-old Todd Frazier's bomb off Bastardo, erased a game-tying Rollins double in the seventh. Kevin Frandsen, who made enough sharp defensive plays to earn a standing ovation, tied it at 4-4 in the eighth with a triple.

A 102-m.p.h. fastball from Aroldis Chapman struck out Utley to end it, and there was nothing to do but shake the Pence bobbleheads.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow @magelb on Twitter.

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