I was at last night’s Phillies-Astros debacle and witnessed barely a sniff of urgency to win the game. Mind you, I left the park with the same feeling on Monday, even though Chase Utley ended that one with a walk-off home run. For all that is said about the importance of starting pitching, when it comes down to it, only offense can win games. Even if a pitching staff gives up 13 runs in a game, it is still possible to win by scoring 14. In the same vein, you cannot win a game by scoring zero runs, it’s just impossible. Thus my issue du jour is the inconsistency of the Phillies offense. In the first half of the season, this plagued the pitchers but they have since stabilized to the tune of a 2.50 ERA in the past eight games. In the past three games the Phils have failed to score more than three runs – a pity since the club is 63-29 when scoring more than three. When they score three or less runs, their record stands at a declarative 7-40 with one of those 7 wins coming Monday. So on one hand you have the Phillies who score over ten runs four times over a seven game stretch (from 8/14-8/20) and on the other you have what we’ve seen this week: a failure to advance runners and leaving 12+ men on base per game.
The biggest culprits I have witnessed are Abraham Nunez and Pat Burrell. Nunez’s sub-.200 batting average shines like a beacon on the CBP scorebaord warning ships and fans not to expect a hit when he approaches the plate. I could tell you that he hits just .189 with runners in scoring position, but I’m sure you would have guessed something close. Pat Burrell, meanwhile, leads the century in strikeouts looking – well, I can’t prove that, but he has been the worst in the past two seasons. For what it’s worth, it’s not that he has poor plate discipline, he is ninth in the league in walks; he just refuses to swing the bat with two strikes on him. Faced with a two strikes situation this season, Burrell has struckout half of the time. Compare that with Chase Utley who in the same situation has struck out only 37% of the time. Granted, Burrell is billed a power hitter so a comparison to Ryan Howard may be more apt. Howard strikes out 54% of the time when faced with two strikes, but allowances are made when you hit 50+ home runs. I don’t know if Burrell is just up there looking for walks, which as the number five hitter he should not be, but he just chooses not to protect the plate. For all the times he has struck out looking, he could have at least tried to put the ball in play to move runners. With runners in scoring position he has struck out 27% of the time while garnering a hit just 24% of the time. Obviously, a batter is not expected to get a hit more than 30% of the time he is at bat, but there is such a thing as a productive out despite the sabermatrician’s mantra of "thou shall not record an out." Besides Burrell’s inability to advance runners in key situations, he also has become a liability for Ryan Howard. Burrell’s ineptitude at the plate under pressure, gives an opposing manager every incentive to walk Howard and pitch to Burrell. When the Phillies fail to score runs and leave men on base, these are the situations and players that cause it. I didn’t intend for this to be a Pat Burrell bashing column but when you see him fail miserably in consecutive games sometimes this stuff just writes itself.