Lack of Offensive Consistency Hurts

When you open the morning paper and skim over the Phillies boxscore, you expect to see offensive firepower. With Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu in the line-up why think otherwise? Combine them with a strong supporting cast of Mike Lieberthal, Jimmy Rollins and David Bell and on paper you see a line-up that is downright scary to opposing pitchers. The Phillies have a nice mixture of power, contact and clutch hitters. So why are they having so much trouble finding a steady rhythm?

The 2003 Phillies team began to take shape when General Manager Ed Wade wasted no time in faxing a contract offer to the premier free agent on the open market only minutes after the signing period began. Contract offers were submitted to slugger Jim Thome and the steady David Bell. Once those players agreed to continue their careers in Philadelphia, the fans were salivating with anticipation. Jimmy Rollins, David Bell, Pat Burrell, Jim Thome, Mike Lieberthal and Bobby Abreu, oh my! The dethroning of the Atlanta Braves for the National League East had started, right? Well, after completing the first month of baseball, the Phillies are a game and a half behind those pesky Braves and Expos. Why? How could that happen? Look no further than that offense that so many of us waited with anticipation to see.

After 28 games the Phils have compiled a 16-12 record. Compared to last years dismal 9-19 month of April, this seems like heavenly bliss. However, it is far from that. The problem lies within the consistency of the offense. Many write off the struggles because it was the first month of the season. To some that is a valid excuse, especially when two of the top bats in the line-up are notorious slow starters. Pat Burrell and Jim Thome historically haven't lifted the bats off their shoulders until the calendar shows May or June. But those are only two players in a sport that relies on nine guys to get the job done everyday at the plate. The other seven guys must contribute and that's not happening on a consistent basis. The Phils are putting up runs, there's no denying that. They have scored 147 of them, good for fourth in the National League. We all know they are going to score a lot we'd just like to see them score with more regularity.

Four times this year the Phillies have scored double digit totals in runs only to have the bats fall silent the following day. On April 5th they embarrassed Pittsburgh 16-1. The next day, Kris Benson baffled the pinstripes 2-0. Three days later they put up 16 runs again, only this time against the Atlanta Braves. What did they follow up with? A 6-2 loss. On a sunny afternoon in Cincinnati the Phils set a franchise record by putting up 13 runs in a single inning, but were shutout the rest of the game, although they coasted to a 13-1 win. Their next contest was a 5-2 win against the Florida Marlins. Last weekend the best team in the National League came to town. After struggling to put up runs on young Kurt Ainsworth Friday night, the Phillies pounded out 10 runs the next evening. If it weren't for Kevin Millwood's brilliance on Sunday, they might've been in trouble again. Millwood no hit the Giants while getting just one run in support.

This brings us back to the question at hand. Can the Phillies offense find a rhythm? When will the lethargic bats of Burrell and Thome awaken? For about the first week of the season Thome was hot. You can probably attribute that to the adrenaline of playing for a new team and wanting to prove his worth to the organization that invested millions of dollars in him. Unfortunately, that hot start has faded into a .248 batting average with only four home runs and twenty-nine strikeouts.

Last season, Pat Burrell didn't heat up until the middle part of May. He finished the year strong, belting 37 home runs and knocking in 116 runs while boasting a decent .282 average. Pat is currently flirting not far away from the unpopular "Mendoza line", hitting at a .223 clip with 34 strikeouts in 112 at bats. That means thirty-percent of the time he is walking back to the dugout as a victim of the "K". The next time Burrell steps into the box and takes a cut, watch his swing. Pitchers know he'll hurt them on anything thrown middle-in so they're feeding him junk low and away. A steady diet of change-ups and sliders that pick up some of the chalk from the left-handed batter's box are on the menu for Pat. Until he stops diving out over the plate and trying to pull everything, he is going to continue to see those pitches and the weak ground outs to the left side of the infield will be common. It's feast or famine. Until Burrell forces a pitcher to give him his pitch, he is going to continue to struggle. Let's hope that Greg Gross is wearing out the VCR in the clubhouse pointing these things out to him.

There is no reason to get beside yourself with worry - yet - Phillies faithful. This team is going to hit. The only concern is if they are going to hit now or wait until they are 8, 9 or 10 games out of first place. Credit must be given to the pitching staff for being consistent and keeping the team's heads above water. Without strong performances nearly every day from the starting rotation, we might be looking at another 9-19 month. Exactly how much longer can we wait for the offense to step up to the challenge? The time is now for the bats to wake up or they are going to be lucky to be fighting a battle for the wild card and not the division championship.

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