Charlie Manuel faced the same quandry last October prior to Game 3 of the World Series. The Phillies were going up against Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte, who was backed by bullpen that features lefty specialist Damaso Marte, who seemed born to beat the heart of the Phillies order. Manuel was asked several different incarnations of the same question: Will you split up Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the batting order?
Ultimately, Manuel stuck with the line-up that has carried him this far, hitting Utley third and Howard fourth.They combined to go 0-for-8 with five strikeouts.
In Game 6, when the Phillies again faced Pettitte, Manuel stuck with the same line-up. Utley and Howard went 1-for-7 with three strikeouts that day, with Howard hitting a two-run home run against Pettitte in the sixth to cut the Phils' deficit to 7-3.
Marte struck out Utley to strand runners on first and second in the seventh, then struck out Howard to start the eighth before giving way to Mariano Rivera in the game that ended the World Series.
One year later, Manuel faces a similar decision. The Giants are starting lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who led the National League in batting average against during the regular season, and will back him with lefty specialist Javier Lopez, who has yet to allow a hit in 10 career at-bats against Utley and Howard (last night, he struck out Howard and got Utley to groundout to start the eighth).
Will he consider flip-flopping Utley and Placido Polanco in the order, hitting Utley second and Polanco third?
There are plenty other avenues Manuel can explore. Should Rollins, who is 1-for-15 this postseason and 1-for-16 in his career against Sanchez, take a seat in favor of Wilson Valdez? Should the right-handed hitting Ben Francisco get the start in left in place of the left-handed hitting Raul Ibanez?
Here are the Phillies' career numbers against Sanchez, who two-hit them in eight innings at Citizens Bank Park in August:
1. Shane Victorino 6/15, 1 BB, 2 2B, 2 SO
2. Placido Polanco 3/9, BB, SO
3. Chase Utley 3/11, 2B, HR, 5 BB, 3 SO
4. Ryan Howard 3/14, 2 2B, 3B, 1 BB, 7 SO
5. Jayson Werth 0/12, 2 BB, 6 SO
6. Jimmy Rollins 1/16, 4 SO, 2B
7. Raul Ibanez 0/6, 3 BB, SO
8. Carlos Ruiz 1/9, 3 BB, 4 SO
Ben Francisco 0/8, BB, 2 SO
Brian Schneider 0/3, SO
Wilson Valdez 0/3, 3 SO
Mike Sweeney 0/2, BB