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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Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.