Phillies must find bats, or go the way of the Yankees


They say that pitching wins championships, and while the adage is up for debate, one thing seems clear: no matter how good your pitching is, you have to figure out how to scratch out a few runs at some point.

The vaunted New York Yankees offense hasn’t been able to do it against the Texas Rangers, scoring only 11 runs in four games, with five of those coming in the eighth inning of Game 1. The Philadelphia Phillies have experienced similar problems, scoring six runs in a Game 2 victory over the San Francisco Giants, but only three runs total in Games 1 and 3, both defeats.

The Yankees and Phillies are both big-budget powers who met in the 2009 World Series. They both sport lineups dotted with All-Stars and MVPs, and yet both are failing to put together consistent production at the plate.

The Yankees squared up Texas Rangers starter Tommy Hunter often on Tuesday night, but were unable to come up with the big blow when they needed it, stranding 21 runners. They then watched A.J. Burnett and a beleaguered bullpen fall apart late. Now staring at three win-or-else games, including a potential matchup against the untouchable Cliff Lee in Game 7, the Yankees appear to be, in all likelihood, finished.

The Phillies are an even more puzzling case than the Yankees, as their powerful lineup goes hand-in-hand with what many think is the best starting rotation in baseball. Yet after one start for each of the “Big Three” of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, they are staring at a 2-1 deficit against the San Francisco Giants.

After hitting just .212 as a team in the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, the Philly offense was a concern heading into the NLCS against the Giants’ vaunted pitching staff. But even so, this level of ineptitude is a surprise. Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino are both hitting .182. Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz are at .222. Chase Utley is at .100, albeit with a .308 on-base percentage. And Raul Ibanez is a big, fat 0-for-11. Only Ryan Howard (.364) has been consistently dependable.

Charlie Manuel was his usual unflappable self after Tuesday’s defeat, putting it in simple terms (from Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer):

“Look, when you don’t score no runs, you don’t get no hits, it’s hard to win the game,” Phillies manager-poet Charlie Manuel said. “But I don’t know what we’re going to do about it. I can sit here and talk about it. I can go in and talk to them about it, but when the game starts tomorrow is when we can do something about it.”

And Shane Victorino sounded like Charlie Jr. with this Yogi-esque gem: “I don’t know why we’re not hitting. We’re not going to sit here and worry about why we’re not hitting. We’re going to think about when we’re going to hit.”

Will the Phillies find their bats in time? We’ll find out on Wednesday when they face Madison Bumgarner, a Giants rookie who has a 3.00 ERA over 111 innings this season, and who held the Braves to two runs over six innings in his only NLDS start.

The Phillies counter with Joe Blanton, the much-maligned portly right-hander who will be making his first start since Sept. 29 and should be very well rested. Perhaps too rested.

Philly is still in decent shape. They still have the “Big Three” lined up for the final three games of the series, and while Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain are formidable, there is no Cliff Lee waiting in Game 7. They also get to finish the NLCS in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park.

Perhaps the Phillies should juggle their lineup, shifting Rollins to the top of the order and pushing Ibanez down — way down. But in reality Manuel is right, he has a ready-made lineup of stars, and there isn’t much he can do other then make a couple tweaks and wait for them to hit.

Game 4 would be a good time for them to start.

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There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.