As ugly as the last two losses have been -- and we're talking morning-after-St.-Patrick's-Day ugly -- the Phillies are really just three timely hits away from being a .500 ballclub. They have played four games that have been decided by one run. They have lost three of those games. In those three losses they are 4-for-20 with runners in scoring position.
That's not necessarily a silver lining. After all, the player most accustomed to producing those big hits is on the disabled list with a hole in the back of his foot. In other words, you can't automatically blame bad luck.
Fact is, the Phillies' No. 3 and No. 4 hitters have combined to go 6-for-30 with one extra base hit with runners in scoring position.
Kinda gives you a new appreciation for what Ryan Howard has been able to do. Last year, the first baseman hit .298/.422/.497 in 204 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. He drove in 83 of the 462 runners who were on base in front of him, a success rate of 18 percent that ranked 23rd out of 193 batters.
But this isn't just about Howard. Last year, Raul Ibanez drove in 17.5 percent of the runners on base in front of him. Getting Pence back on track is the biggest key. In 2011, the right fielder ranked 10th in the majors, driving in 18.7 percent of the runners on base in front of him. The difference between that rate and his 2012 rate is three runs.
Of course, Pence missed last night's game with a shoulder injury. He has only been on the disabled list once in his career, back in 2007, when he missed a month with a fractured wrist. If he ends up there, the Phillies would be missing their top three run-drivers from a year ago, all of whom ranked in the top quarter of major league hitters in percentage of baserunners driven in.
Pence has not fared well in previous stints as a clean-up hitter. Rollins is struggling in the three-hole. Charlie Manuel used Shane Victorino at No. 3 during the spring. You wonder if that might be something to try but even then, every hole that gets plugged only opens up a new one. In the end the Phillies' biggest problem is the lack of a true slugger in the middle of the order, although it is not their only problem. Only eight of their 31 hits with runners in scoring position have gone for extra bases. The 31 hits they have managed have produced just 39 runs. The National League average is 31 hits and 47 runs. The Phillies aren't putting enough men on base (their 355 baserunners ranks 12th in the NL), and when they do put them on, they aren't driving them in (11 percent of their baserunners have scored, which ranks 14th in the NL). That is not a good combination, one that cannot be rectified by a simple lineup change.
Phillies performance with RISP, and percentage of runners on base driven in (OBI%)