Watching the Phillies offense in their last four postseason series has been about as much fun as watching old people eat.
In the 2009 World Series, the bats simply fell asleep after dominating performances in the NLDS against Colorado and the NLCS against Los Angeles. In 2010, the offense disappeared again but, thanks to the bumbling Cincinnati Reds and Roy Halladay’s no-hit masterpiece, the Phils to actually won the NLDS. The offense then continued its hibernation against the Giants in the NLCS.
And then there was last year, when the Phillies managed just five runs in the last three games of their NLDS series against the Cardinals, finally bowing out with a three-hit performance against Chris Carpenter in their 1-0 Game 5 loss.
So of course, the worry continues to be an offense that has cost the Phils a world championship the last three years. And there is no denying that it has been the bats, not the arms, that has let them down.
But before panic sets in concerning the offensive ability of the 2012 Phillies, allow me to soothe your frazzled hearts with a little encouragement.
The offense is going to be fine.
Repeat this to yourself. “The offense will be fine. The offense will be fine. The offense will be fine.”
I’m not really into meditation or anything, but if you close your eyes and let your body go still, you can actually achieve a few seconds of nirvana with that incantation.
Last year, the offense was not an issue during the regular season. Not really, anyway. For the first month and a half, when the offense truly was struggling, it was because guys like Pete Orr, Wilson Valdez, and Michael Martinez were all playing in the lineup at the same time. Chase Utley and Placido Polanco were injured, Raul Ibanez was playing every day, and Ben Francisco was, well, Ben Francisco.
From the start of the season through May 22nd, the offense averaged just 3.8 runs per game, hitting .245 with a slugging percentage of .364.
However, upon Utley’s return to the lineup on May 23th, things turned around quickly as the Phils averaged 4.6 runs per game, with a batting average of .256 and a slugging percentage of .406.
Even though Utley had a down year and struggled, his presence was still good enough to help the team to an 11-point improvement in batting average and a 42-point uptick in slugging.
For the season, the Phillies averaged 4.4 runs per game, all while playing the first month and a half without Utley and the first half of the season without Hunter Pence. And while Pence’s addition to the team didn’t drastically improve the offensive output (the team averaged 4.5 runs per game, with a slight increase in batting average and a slugging percentage that remained the same), a full year of Pence can make a whole lot of difference.
In all, the Phillies scored 713 runs last year, good enough for 7th in the National League.
Is that a far cry from Phillies offenses of the past? Of course. In 2010, they were second in the NL with 772 runs. In 2009, they led the NL with 820 runs. Yet in both of those seasons, the offense disappeared during the playoffs.
Perhaps what has hurt the Phillies the last few years is that they had a pretty easy road to the playoffs the last three years. There was no need for a team-wide surge. In ’09 and ’10, they won the division by six games, and last year, they won it by 13 games, which included an eight-game losing streak after the division had been clinched.
But then again, they finished the season on a four-game winning streak with most of the starters back in the lineup, including a crucial three-game sweep of Atlanta at the end of the season, games that really mattered. In that four-game winning streak, they averaged six runs a game.
You cannot make the argument that the Phils’ offense was dormant heading into the NLDS against the Cardinals. Remember, the Phillies bashed the cover off the ball in Game 1, winning 11-6. In Game 2, they scored four quick runs to give Cliff Lee a 4-0 lead.
The offense did not go into hibernation just because the playoffs started last year. At the beginning of their series with St. Louis, the offense appeared to be fine. They were rolling. So, what happened?
That’s the big question, and there are a couple of possible reasons why the Phils offense disappeared. In a five-game series, luck plays a huge role. In Game 5, the Phillies hit a number of balls hard, but it seemed as if every single one of them found a Cardinals defender.
Managerial errors were also a culprit. Charlie Manuel stuck with struggling veterans (Polanco, Ibanez, Gload) for too long, thinking they would pull out of their slumps, but never did.
Slumps to good hitters also came at a bad time. Pence was the best hitter on the club in 2011 by a wide margin, but he hit only .211/.286/.211 with no extra-base hits in the five-game loss. Howard, for all his faults, still had a decent season at the plate. But after his four-RBI performance in Game 1, Howard went 1-16, hitting .105/.143/.263 for the series. When your #3 and #4 hitters do that, it’s almost impossible to score a lot of runs.
Running into the “hot team” also was a factor. St. Louis was simply playing phenomenal baseball at the time, and remember that they were the number one offense in the National League last year.
My point is, a team’s regular season offensive performance rarely has an effect on how they’ll perform in the postseason, unless the team itself is comprised of players with limited offensive ability. That is not the case with the Phillies.
Are Utley, Howard, Rollins and Polanco the players they once were? Of course not. All four players lose a little more power with each passing season, lose a little more of their ability to bring the same physical intensity each and every day, as their bodies break down from wear and tear.
And yes, with each passing year, the team’s OPS, slugging percentage and HR totals continue to drop, while their on-base percentage continues to stay at below average levels.
But people remember the 2011 season as having been an offensive black hole, when that simply wasn’t the case. With a starting pitching staff as good as the Phillies’, 4.5 runs per game should be enough to win 90-95 games a season. Generally, that’s a good enough number to get into the postseason.
Simply put, the Phillies were hitting well at the end of the regular season, and started off the postseason hitting well. But they couldn’t carry it through, for a multitude of reasons. But it was not because the offense was putrid.
Clearly, it’s not as good as it once was. But based on the regular season numbers, it should have been good enough to win a five-game series against St. Louis.
Most of the same players are back this year. Hopefully, John Mayberry Jr. can continue his second-half power surge into 2012, replacing the decaying Raul Ibanez. Hopefully, Shane Victorino can repeat his career year of 2011. Hopefully, Utley is in good enough shape to improve on his sub-par numbers from a season ago. Hopefully, the hernias that ravaged P0lanco’s body will stay away long enough for him to hit close to .300. And hopefully, a full year of Pence will allow the offense to stabilize and perform more consistently.
It’s unlikely the Phils will be one of the top-five offenses in the National League. All they need to do is be good enough for the Phils to get back to the playoffs.
After that, as we’ve all seen, it’s a complete and total crap-shoot.