As you may have heard yesterday, the Phillies “shook up” their lineup ahead of Wednesday night’s 5-3 loss to the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. And what a shake-up it was.
I know, I couldn’t believe the news when I heard it, either.
A “shake-up” as drastic as this certainly had a dramatic effect on the offensive product last night. Moving the same struggling pieces around in a different order undoubtedly helped fix the Phillies’ inability to hit left-handed pitchers, right-handed pitchers, pitchers who throw fastballs, pitchers who throw change-ups, pitchers who throw breaking balls and pitchers who throw pitches that have not been invented yet.
Clearly this “shake-up” helped the Phillies produce more extra-base hits, get on base more and drive in more runs.
Wait, only three runs? Just three extra-base hits (two of them solo homers by Utley and Howard)? A team-wide 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position?
Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, but just maybe, rearranging struggling players into a slightly different order isn’t going to miraculously change their performance.
I know, call me crazy.
I mean, Ben Revere was booted out of the leadoff spot a few games ago, and the changes have been drastic. He hit .194/.242/.194 as a leadoff man, and since his demotion to the 7-hole in the lineup, Revere has hit .238/.238/.333.
That’s just one example of how successful lineup juggling can be.
Seriously, all this talk about moving players around in the lineup is a fun exercise, but it rarely equates to more run production. The problem is that it’s the same hitters with the same flaws and the same approach doing the same thing against the same pitchers. Chase Utley doesn’t become a different hitter because he moves up into the two-hole. Yes, moving him up a spot in the lineup means he may see one or two more at bats a week, and that’s a good thing, no doubt.
Honestly, splitting up Utley and Howard in the lineup was long overdue. Having those two bunched together made things way too easy on opposing managers late in games. Now a manager has to think twice about bringing in a lefty specialist. That’s all good.
And things certainly seemed to get off to a good start last night, as Utley and Howard both hit home runs off left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez, showing it is indeed possible to hit home runs off left-handed pitchers. For the Phils’ top two sluggers, they were home runs number three and two on the season, respectively.
But despite the lineup re-jiggering, last night’s struggles with men on base continued. The Phils left eight more men on base, failing to come up with a big hit that would blow the game open, especially in the fourth and fifth innings.
“Yeah, obviously you’re not going to capitalize on every opportunity,” Utley said last night (per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki). “The more opportunities you have the better chance you have, but it’s time to start capitalizing on them.”
Ryan Howard agreed with that statement.
“We had like 10 hits, and just couldn’t capitalize,” he said. “At some point, it’s cliché, but it’s bound to turn. The only thing we can do is keep swinging and keep hitting the ball and sooner or later it all evens itself out.”
The problem isn’t the order in which the Phillies are hitting, it’s the Phillies hitters themselves, and the inherent weaknesses of their games right now. General Manager Ruben Amaro has gone out of his way to subtract players who are patient and hit for power, and has instead assembled a light-hitting, ground-ball oriented team that all-too-infrequently makes solid contact with the baseball, as CSN Philly’s Corey Seidman noted yesterday.
The Phillies also continue to strike out at an alarmingly high rate, especially for a team that doesn’t hit many home runs and doesn’t get on base.
In the NL, Reds are 1st in K’s and also 1st in OBP. Braves are 2nd in K’s and 5th in OBP. Phillies are 3rd in K’s and 12th in OBP.
— Justin Klugh (@TBOHblog) April 24, 2013
And then there’s this…
Phillies have grounded into 23 double plays this season (two tonight). Most in the National League.
— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) April 25, 2013
Tinkering with the top of the lineup is fine. Splitting up the lefties makes tactical sense for the later innings. I’m all for that.
But moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic isn’t going make this offense reborn.
A true lineup “shake-up” would be to drop Ryan Howard out of the clean-up spot. A true lineup shake-up would be to give Kevin Frandsen or Freddy Galvis more playing time (not that they are the answers to the offensive woes either).
Those would be true “shake-ups”.
Sadly though, there doesn’t seem to be anything the manager or his cadre of hitting instructors can do to make these guys hit.
Of course, it’s still just April. Yes, it’s still early. But a struggling offense is not a new problem for the Phillies. It is a problem that has been growing worse and worse for three years.
So while moving a couple guys around in the lineup gives writers something to write about, it’s highly unlikely to change the results on the field.
There are only two things that help the Phillies score more runs. Either the existing players start hitting more line drives and begin taking better at bats or…
…the Phillies need to acquire better players.