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

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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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The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.