What are the causes -- and the odds -- of the Phillies' slump?
Watching the Philadelphia Phillies try to hit lately has been a bit like watching a champion heavyweight flail with a broken fist and two shut eyes. They know what to do; they just can't do it.
From May 22 through June 2,
Saying "that's baseball," for one, may not really be true.
Broaden the scope to gauge the chances of this happening at any point during the season and the odds drop greatly, to "more like one in 16,000." Whichever set of numbers you like, random chance isn't a satisfying explanation for the recent funk.
Accepting that the team isn't just hitting in bad luck, and that there is an actual cause for the run drought, doesn't necessarily allow for a very good answer. We can probably chalk up such exotic possibilities as a mass hypnosis program conducted by overzealous Nationals fans or the abrupt cessation of a secret sign-stealing program, which even if it existed surely didn't mark the difference between Howard and Utley hitting like Hall of Famers and like inept pitchers. That leaves three possibilities, the first two improbable, the third perhaps not.
The first possibility is that the team's collective timing was ruined by having faced knuckleballers in consecutive games against the Red Sox and Mets. One can't rule this out, but it doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. No study of the issue I'm aware of has ever concluded that there's a really meaningful hangover effect that comes from having stood in against baseball's most baffling pitch. More to the point, if rolling out the likes of
The second possibility has to do with the enemy having their say. Over the recent slide the Phillies have faced some strong pitchers, including the Mets'
This leaves us with a third possibility, that their recent play has been an almost comically grotesque expression of the basic truth that the Phillies aren't quite as strong an offensive team as their reputation would have it. Unlike competing explanations, this isn't easily knocked down. Of the team's three key hitters, one is a 30-year-old first baseman who's averaged 193 strikeouts per 162 games over his career, and another is a 31-year-old right fielder whose career park adjusted OPS is about as good as
One could certainly describe the Phillies' offense more generously, but given their recent performance, what compelling reason is there to do so? As Manuel has it, this is baseball, and after suffering the equivalent of a 1,000 year flood, this offense will recover, at least a bit. In the meantime they'll have endured three straight shutouts at the hands of the lowly Mets, a sweep at the hands of the team that now lords over them from their accustomed spot in first place and a view on a time that everyone knew would come, when age caught up with them and their lineup past Chase Utley read in blanks and question marks. The odds on that were always dead certain.