Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hits, Shifts and Breaks

Frankly, I had them penciled in for a loss last night. They just seemed to be due for a lugubrious effort and, sure enough, they delivered, as it were. The fact is, they aren’t hitting all that much at precisely the moment their biggest worry, starting pitching, has come around and been nothing short of tremendous. And then there is the fielding, which continues to haunt them.

It all added up to a 3-2 loss that wasted a good start by Cory Lidle, who needed one, and an inning of effective relief by beleaguered Ryan Madson, who needed one even more. The loss went to Ryan Franklin, who gave up a leadoff double in the ninth, an intentional walk and a game-losing throwing error on a bunt by Brewers’ catcher Damian Miller.

The lack of hitting is coming from a few quarters the Phillies absolutely depend on. Bobby Abreu has not been a productive hitter for nearly an entire season stretching back to last year’s All-Star game. He may be walking a lot, but he sure isn’t hitting. He isn’t driving the ball or getting good swings. Jimmy Rollins is in a huge funk following the end of his hitting streak, and, as we all know, Jimmy doesn’t walk. As for Pat Burrell, always streaky, he is in one of those funks where he looks lost at the plate, taking a lot of called strikes.

Marcus Hayes put is this way in his Daily News piece this morning:

Phillies leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins and cleanup hitter Pat Burrell have been especially lacking as the offense has sputtered.

Burrell is 1-for-12 in his last three games, with six strikeouts in his last eight at-bats. He was 0-for-4 last night. He twice struck out with runners on base and he also grounded into a doubleplay. It is the sort of mini-slump Manuel likes to nip in the bud.

"He might be getting into a little funk," Manuel allowed. "It might be time to rest him. Let him think about it."

Rollins is 1-for-19 in his last four games. He hasn't scored in the last three.

"I'm not saying I won't change the lineup," Manuel said. "Jimmy gets us going."

Not lately.

Burrell needs to think about it? Sorry, Charlie, but Pat needs to stop thinking about it and hit what is thrown. Failing that, he should at least swing now and then. As for Jimmy, he is back to his old habit of swinging at the high ones, especially when batting right-handed. Just when everyone thought J-Roll had learned his role and some plate discipline, he reverts to his old form. It's time to make some tough decisions about Jimmy. This lack of production out of the lead-off spot cannot go on forever and in Shane Victorino the Phils may have a solution.

* * * * * * * * *

Commenter extraordinaire George S. noted in an email that the Phils gave up three hits in last night’s game when they were in a “dramatic shift” and that all might have been outs in a more conventional alignment.

The reality is the Phillies have been employing “dramatic shifts” for quite some time now against players such as Carlos Delgado, Barry Bonds, Adam Dunn and Geoff Jenkins among others. Once in while the shift might be called for, but not every series let alone every game.

Who is responsible for this, ah, shift in strategy? (Sorry about that.)

* * * * * * * * *

The medical report on Mike Lieberthal is not good. An MRI confirmed he has a deep bone bruise and “minimal, stable fracture” of the knee. I don’t know how “minimal” or “stable” a fracture has to be for a catcher to recover quickly, but given Mike’s history neither he nor the team can be much consoled. The only good news here is that the ligaments and tendons are not affected. After the best start he has had in years this is an unfortunate break for Mike, who may be out two more weeks…or longer.

It also means Sal Fasano and Carlos Ruiz will be splitting the catching duties for the foreseeable future.

Last night we got to see Fasano at his best and worst. His block of the plate on a throw by Burrell was impressive. Getting picked off first base was not, especially when he’d just watched slightly more nimble Chase Utley almost get picked off. This is what we can expect from a journeyman catcher: good one moment and terrible the next. If he were more consistent he wouldn't be a journeying sort of man.


Rev. Smokin Steve said...

Fasano is what he is, but I think his good outweighs his bad, and doesn't show up in the boxscore.

I saw that shift implemented against the Mets in the game I attended, and I believe it was Delgado at the plate. And Delgado shot one down the third base line right where David Bell would have had a chance normally.

I think the shift is overrated, no matter who you are facing. If you can't defend a normal hitter with your regular position players near their positions with some small positioning involved for a situation, then you have other problems. You're overcompensating for something, and it may be unnecessary.

And for the most part, these hitters they do it for are great hitters. If they were not great hitters, the shift would keep their averages down near the Mendoza line.

then again, maybe it's finally starting to work on Barry Bonds now since he is struggling, but it only took over a decade of shifting to finally get to him. And now after he is apparently not juicing anymore.

Consider me not a fan of the shift. Though I did get a kick out of it in the mid 80's when they once put Glenn Wilson behind second base late in a game, and he turned a 9-3 double play to save a game-winning run on a ball hit up the middle.

gomp11 said...

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RickSchuBlues said...

I didn't get a chance to watch the game last night. Are you telling me that Sal Fasano got his bulk picked off? That's amazing. The slowest runner this side of Curly Howard gets caught napping off first. He ought to have his scalp shorn for such an infraction!

The one area where Manuel overmanages is the "shift", which burns any team just as often as it helps. I remember when teams did it to Thome, and the ratio was about the same.

As for Rollins, every time it seems as though he's finally stepped it up to another level, he steps right back down. He knows how good he can be, but will it ever happen over a full season?

Tom Goodman said...

RSB: Get out your shears. Yes indeed. Sal the Barber (not) got his ample backside picked off big time.

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

In fairness to Fasano, and I'm not totally defending him because the laspe was bad, Chris Capuano had a sick pickoff move on that one. It was reminiscent of Terry Mulholland who caught many people napping in his day. I give more credit to Capuano for it.

Fasano had to be aware of Capuano's ability to make that move, and he wasn't at that time.