Phils simply aren't getting on base enough

Posted: June 01, 2013

Maybe it was the carryover effect from a win the previous evening, or maybe it was the optimism that every major-league manager must harbor for his team, but Charlie Manuel had a good feeling about this one.

He looked at the bottom of the Boston lineup and saw a pitcher in Franklin Morales who throws a lot of junk, but can struggle with the placement of his breaking pitches and, as a bonus, hadn't been in a game for the Red Sox since Aug. 23.

If the Phillies could just be patient, just sit on those fastballs Morales would have to throw, and not swing at pitches they couldn't handle, then this could be remembered as the night that lit the fuse.

"We might go out here tonight and put together some hits, score some runs, and we might go on a stretch where we start pounding the ball," Manuel said before Thursday night's game. "That happens, too."

It sounds possible, but the theory will have to be proved some other night. The Phils lost to the Red Sox, 9-2, after being burdened with a quick four-run deficit. Coming from behind is not what the Phillies are best at this year. They haven't really identified what that might be, but it definitely isn't letting the offense carry the load.

Against lefthander Morales, the Phils did have some early success, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning on a Delmon Young home run to cut the deficit in half. But they either weren't disciplined enough to stay away from the off-speed pitches or not lucky enough to guess right.

Even when they showed unusual patience - as when they took a pair of walks in the fourth-inning that, combined with a base hit, loaded the bases - something else would go wrong. In this case, Erik Kratz got a two-strike fastball but could only use it to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

The Phillies, as they have most of the season, are fighting the game of baseball, which makes for a long year. They don't put enough runners on base and find themselves trying to win games with nothing but solo home runs. (Before Young's home run Thursday, 30 of the Phils' previous 32 home runs had come with the bases empty.)

The lack of runners is partly because it just isn't a talented-enough offense at the moment but is also partly because the batters don't work for walks and they swing at some awful pitches. It is supremely obvious but worth stating anyway: Scoring is easier when you have base runners.

"I used to argue with Pat Gillick because he'd say, 'You leave more runners on base than any team in baseball.' And I'd say, 'That's because we get more runners on base than anybody in baseball, and we score more runs than anybody in baseball,' " Manuel said. "I'll take that over what's going on now."

Going into Thursday's game, the numbers told the story. The Phillies had stranded the third-fewest runners in the major leagues, an average of 12.89 per game. In the five straight division-winning seasons, the Phillies stranded more than 14 runners per game each year and were never ranked higher than 10th. Those differences might not sound like much, but they are the difference between 4-3 losses and 5-4 wins.

"Low on-base percentage and the lack of the number of hits," Manuel said, diagnosing the offense's main issues.

"With all the information you've got out there, scouting reports and computers, pitchers go to school on hitters, and they know if they go 2-0, they can throw a slow curve or a change-up and, even if they can't hit it, they're going to swing at it," Manuel said. "If you fall behind, you don't panic, because you know he doesn't have any walks, and he's going to swing. It's not hard to figure out."

It must be hard for the Phillies, though, no matter how many times they are reminded. Is it bad coaching if the lessons aren't absorbed, or is it just a maddeningly nonabsorbent clubhouse? And, in the end, does it matter which?

Only three National League teams have fewer unintentional walks and only four teams have lower on-base percentages than the .304 mark of the Phillies. Shake that up any way you like, and it comes out the same. It will be a struggle to win even on nights when the pitching holds up. On nights like Thursday, when the pitching wasn't there, there won't be any sign of a struggle.

The manager thought this might be the game that turned it all around. He liked the matchup, and he liked their chances. It will have to be another night, however. This time it seemed as if the other team liked what it saw, too.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow @bobfordsports on Twitter, Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.inquirer.com/postpatterns

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