What a difference defense can make

The Phillies currently rank second in the National League in fielding percentage. (AP Photo / Suchat Pederson)

The focus through spring training and the embroyonic stages of the regular season has been the Phillies' offense.

Too many singles, not enough clutch hits, etc., etc. I've been as guilty as anyone at harping on that part of the Phillies' game and it is a real problem.

But what we saw Monday night in San Francisco was the difference that defense can make.

The Phillies scored four runs in the first and it was all triggered by the poor defensive work of Giants outfielders Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, who combined to misplay what should have been an out into a Placido Polanco double.

Pagan, who played so deep he was nearly across the bay in Oakland, also did not get to some balls that a quality center fielder would have caught.

By contrast, the Phillies made a couple of sensational fourth-inning plays that helped Roy Halladay get through a difficult situation and eventually last eight innings.

The first one was a backhand stop by Polanco on a hard-hit grounder by Tim Lincecum. Polanco threw out the Giants' pitcher for the second out of the inning and prevented what would have been a two-run double.

Hunter Pence ended the inning with a running catch against the right-field wall and was rewarded with a fist bump from Halladay when he got back to the dugout.

Those two plays were as big as Laynce Nix's two-run double and any other offense the Phillies got in the first inning off Lincecum.

The Phillies currently rank second in the National League in fielding percentage and were first in that department a year ago. They have ranked in the top five in fielding percentage every season since their run of five straight N.L. East titles started in 2007. That's a statistic that is often overlooked.

The last time the Phillies failed to finish in the top five in fielding percentage was 2006 when they ranked ninth. That was the only time since the turn of the century that they were not in the top five. They have ranked second or higher five times in the last 12 years and third or higher six times.

There's no question the Phillies lose a lot of offense without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the lineup, but defensively they are still one of the best teams in the league and that's vital when you have a great starting rotation.