Phillies' offense begins to produce

Posted: April 13, 2013

The Phillies hit three home runs in one inning and scored eight times on Tuesday night against the New York Mets. They hit three more home runs and scored seven times Wednesday to claim their first series victory of the season.

Blasts in the past carried the Phillies offense, but in recent years the power slippage has been significant and debilitating.

Ryan Howard, the team's primary power source since the second half of the 2005 season, and Jimmy Rollins, the team's unlikely leader in home runs a year ago, both refused to compare this year's lineup to the ones that mauled opponents from 2007 through 2009.

"I think this is our 2013 offense," said Rollins, who heads into Friday night's series opener with the 1-8 Miami Marlins batting .316 with five doubles and a home run.

Howard agreed that there's no sense in looking back.

"I don't like comparing to teams from the past," he said. "But I think you're seeing what this team is capable of doing."

From 2006 through 2009, the Phillies were the only team in baseball to hit at least 200 home runs every season, a total they have not reached in each of the last three seasons. A year ago, with Howard and Chase Utley spending almost the entire first half on the disabled list, the home run total dipped to 158, the team's lowest output since 2000.

It may be a reach to think the Phillies offense can restore the power that was in place at the start of their run to five straight division titles. But this should be their best offensive team since 2010, when they finished second in the league in runs scored.

This is the first time since 2009 that the Phillies have started the season with Rollins, Howard, and Utley healthy and in the lineup, so that fact alone gives the offense a better chance to succeed. Utley, because of his knee problems, had lost a significant amount of power in recent years, hitting a total of 38 home runs from 2010 through 2012 after averaging 29.2 per season in the previous five years.

Based on what he did in spring training and his two home runs to dead center field in the first nine games of this season, it appears as if he has regained his power swing.

"People forget how long Chase has been in this league. . . . It's eight to 10 years," Howard said. "So out of those last eight to 10 years, in the last two he's had injuries, but you can't just forget about the other five, six, seven years. I see Chase being Chase."

There are other reasons for optimism about the Phillies offense, too.

Third baseman Michael Young, who hit .478 (11 for 23) on the six-game homestand, appears as if he is going to contribute to the offense from a position where it has been sorely lacking in recent years. Young has four extra-base hits in nine games. Placido Polanco had 36 extra-base hits the last two seasons.

The return of catcher Carlos Ruiz should also provide a boost for the offense as long as he can come close to doing what he did last season, when he was arguably the team MVP. Ruiz has much to prove because of his 25-game suspension for Adderall use and the fact he can be a free agent after the season. Barring rainouts, he is eligible to return April 28 against the Mets in New York.

The primary offensive concerns remain in the outfield, where essentially the corner players are auditioning for playing time. The trio of Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., and Laynce Nix has combined for four home runs in the early going. Brown is the least likely to lose time when Delmon Young joins the club from the disabled list. Mayberry and Nix must produce in April if they want to continue to get time in May.

"We'll have to make adjustments when [Delmon Young] comes on," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We have to see if Delmon is prepared to play right field, too. Otherwise he's going to hurt us, and we've talked to Delmon about that. So far he's been fine, but it's just too soon. He hasn't had enough reps or challenges out there yet."

Of course, the Phillies' league-worst 6.04 team ERA through nine games makes it more important than ever that the offense is resurgent in 2013.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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