Sunday, February 7, 2016

Manuel misses his team's power

If Charlie Manuel had his way, he'd have the 1927 New York Yankees lineup and the 1990 Cincinnati Reds bullpen to go along with his 2011 starting rotation.

Manuel misses his team's power

Ryan Howard and the Phillies are batting a major-league best .296 this season.  (Barbara Johnston/AP)
Ryan Howard and the Phillies are batting a major-league best .296 this season. (Barbara Johnston/AP)

If Charlie Manuel had his way, he'd have the 1927 New York Yankees lineup and the 1990 Cincinnati Reds bullpen to go along with his 2011 starting rotation.

That's why the manager is able to list the Phillies' power numbers as a concern even though his team took a major-league best .296 batting average into Monday night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"Is it a concern of mine? Yeah," Manuel said. "The year we won the World Series ... Burrell hit fifth and Jayson Werth hit sixth. And (Geoff) Jenkins hit sixth when he played (until) Werth beat him out. We had (Chase) Utley, Burrell and Jayson Werth as high on-base percentage guys, but not only that, they were also sluggers and run producers. We don't have that right now. We had some of it last year, but right now we don't have that kind of offense."

Manuel knew coming into the season that he was going to be without Werth and Utley, two guys capable of hitting 30 home runs, and he's not sure there is anybody on his current roster who can fill that role.

"First of all, your left and right fielder are supposed to hit 25 home runs and knock in close to a hundred runs," Manuel said. "When you break down the game and a team that is a prototype team and a championship team -- I know people are going to say you got the starting pitching -- but usually when you're talking about a World Series team you're talking about a top-notch team."

The manager rambled a little bit from there, but his point was that his World Series championship team and some other championship teams (see 2009 Yankees) have been built for power. The Reds fit that description a lot better than the Phillies.

"Right now, we don't have that kind of offense," Manuel said. "We could have that, but it's going to take some work and we have to improve on some areas and we need some players who have to live up to their career averarges and their career performances."

The Phillies went into Monday's game ranked 11th in home runs with 11 and 12th in extra-base hits with 38. If that makes Manuel uncomfortable, it's understandable.

In his first season as the team's manager in 2005, the Phillies finished seventh in the National League in extra-base hits and eighth in home runs. In the four seasons after that, the Phillies finished third or higher in both extra-base hits and home runs.

A year ago, the team slipped to fifth in extra-base hits and home runs.

Left fielder Raul Ibanez and right fielder Ben Francisco are two players that need to pick up the power slack in the absence of Werth and Utley. Ibanez hit 34 home runs and 32 doubles in his first season with the team in 2009, but that total slipped to 16 a year ago. He has hit 20 or more home runs in six of the last nine years and 30 or more doubles in each of the last nine seasons. He had just two doubles and a home run through the first 14 games.

Francisco has twice hit 15 home runs in his career and has two home runs and two doubles through 14 games this season. After a white-hot start, he was hitting .174 (4-for-23) in his last seven games.

In theory, the power production will improve when Utley returns from his knee injury and possibly when Dom Brown returns from the disabled list. Manuel's theory on prospects, however, is that they have to prove themselves before you can count on them.

"You can project anything you want to, but it's what the guy ends up doing," Manuel said. "I hear guys talking about prospects, but there are more prospects that fail than make it."

As much as Manuel worries, he understands how fortunate he is to have four aces at a time when the Phillies' offensive arsenal is a lot less imposing than it used to be.

"I think our pitching is definitely going to keep us in a position where we have a chance to win at the end," Manuel said. "But I think on offense we have to improve. The bottom line is we have to see where we can get those home runs from. Ryan Howard will definitely hit some. From there ..."

The manager is not sure where the power is going to come from or if it's going to come at all.

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Inquirer Columnist
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