Saturday, December 27, 2014

The imbalanced Phillies lineup

Charlie Manuel puts a left-handed heavy lineup on the field for the series finale against Pittsburgh.

The imbalanced Phillies lineup

Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz. (Staff Photo)
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz. (Staff Photo)

On Wednesday afternoon, Charlie Manuel split long-time middle of the order cogs Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, lefthanded hitters, with the righthanded Michael Young. 

The Phils were matched up against lefthander Wandy Rodriguez.

"I don't see any reason to have them hit back-to-back," Manuel explained.

But the manager was noncommital when asked if he'd continue to split Howard and Utley when the Phils face a righthanded starting pitcher.

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On Thursday, they are facing a righty (James McDonald). And Utley and Howard are back in their traditional third and fourth spots in the batting order, respectively. 

Even though the Pirates have two lefthanders in the bullpen, Manuel doesn't just have Utley and Howard back-to-back but has five consecutive lefthanded bats in his lineup. (Lefthanded hitters in italics below). 

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS

2. Kevin Frandsen, 3B

3. Chase Utley, 2B

4. Ryan Howard, 1B

5. Laynce Nix, RF

6. Domonic Brown, LF

7. Ezequiel Carrera, CF

8. Erik Kratz, C

9. Cliff Lee, P

It's not exactly the kind of balance Manuel always talks about wanting to have in his batting order. Of course, two regular starters have been given the day off: Young and (lefthanded hitting) Ben Revere.

But it won't be too long before the Phils should have that kind of balance. Carlos Ruiz is due back in three days (Sunday in New York) and should help Manuel to fill out his daily lineup card with a lot less stress.

When asked where he'd bat Ruiz, Manuel was noncommittal, but it would be surprising if he's any lower than fifth.

No, the righthanded-hitting Ruiz, who went 1-for-3 with a three-run HR and two walks last night for Class A Clearwater, is not the offense's savior. But he is a viable middle-of-the-order bat that, along with Michael Young, should help Manuel feel comfortable regularly splitting Howard and Utley.

Yes, Ruiz had a career year in 2012. He had career highs in average (.325), OPS (.934), home runs (16) and RBI (68) in 114 games. Yes, he was suspended for the first 25 games of the season for testing positive twice for Adderall, and you can use that to judge his 2012 numbers if you'd like.

But Ruiz has steadily improved as a hitter in just about every season.

Ruiz hit just .219 with a .620 OPS in 2008, when the Phillies won a World Series. In 2009, when the Phis returned to the World Series, he batted .255 with a .780 OPS.

In the last three seasons (2010-12), Ruiz hit .303 with a .388 OBP and an .842 OPS.

It's probably unfair to expect Ruiz to repeat last year's All-Star campaign. But his return should at least balance out a lineup in desperate need for consistent production.

Delmon Young, who will play for Triple-A Lehigh Valley today, is another righthanded bat that should be with the Phillies before too long. But his defensive shortcomings (and .299 OBP in the last two seasons) doesn't exactly make him the kind of impact player Ruiz should be upon their respective returns. 

Ryan Lawrence Daily News Staff Writer
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