Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I'm not worried about Jimmy's ego; he can handle himself. I'm not particularly worried about Ryan Howard's either; he seems to prefer keeping his own counsel. I'm not especially concerned about the future of Pat Burrell in a Philadelphia uniform; it appears to be a foregone conclusion the Phils cannot afford the length of contract he'll likely seek. He'd like to stay but he's always been a realistic guy. I'm not losing any sleep over Cole Hamels' lack of run support; these things have a way of evening out and he knows that as well as anyone.

But I am concerned about Chase Utley. He might be suffering in silence but there's little doubt a player with his sense of pride and commitment must be suffering. His batting average continues its three month erosion and is now threatening to drop below .280. He isn't getting good swings. He's popping the ball up a lot and looking the ball into the catcher's mitt, sure signs of his struggles. He may or may not be nursing a sore hip but by this point in the season he, like most second basemen, is banged up a bit. Unlike many major leaguers, Utley goes all out, all the time and that approach takes an inevitable toll. The Phils can ill-afford his slide at this juncture of the season, but it continues unabated.

With the offense continuing to struggle the Phils need to get their core going. The consensus has always been that Jimmy holds the key. Nothing has changed that perception; when he gets on the rest of the offense kicks it up a notch. For his part, Utley would be seeing different pitches if Rollins or Victorino were on base ahead of him more often. It also wouldn't hurt to swap Howard and Burrell's spots in the batting order so opposing managers cannot load up with lefties late in a game. On that front Charlie Manuel has proved to be consistent -- doggedly and pig-headedly consistent.

According to today's Inquirer, Manuel is giving Jayson Werth more playing time, and the platooning right-fielder is delivering, but Manuel is also quoted as believing Geoff Jenkins will get hot. That's strictly a hunch, of course, but, then, Manuel plays hunches as much as any manager ever has. The lower third of the batting order largely remains what commenter extraordinaire George Southrey labeled a "black hole" a few years back. Chris Coste, Carlos Ruiz, Jenkins and Eric Bruntlett aren't getting it done. So, if your lower third is collectively almost an automatic out, your middle third is streaky and your upper third is under performing, you have an offense struggling to score runs. You have the Phillies.

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