Inside the Phillies: Hits and runs remain scarce for Phils despite wins
Even as the Phillies zoom to 100-plus wins and the best record in baseball, there are things that manager Charlie Manuel will want to see before his team begins its pursuit of another World Series title.
Chase Utley in the lineup and a few more hits and runs top the list.
Manuel had to settle for one of the three even as his team swept a day-night doubleheader from the Florida Marlins on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, winning the first game, 3-1, and the second one, 2-1, in 10 innings.
The hits and runs remained scarce as the Phillies endured a day that felt like late summer when they arrived at the ballpark in the morning and early winter by the time the second game started with Cliff Lee on the mound. The difference in start-time temperatures was 17 degrees, and that did not factor in the fierce winds that howled throughout the second game.
It was good news for the Phillies that Utley returned to the field for the first time since he suffered a concussion at the end of the Phillies' previous homestand. It was a welcome sight for the manager and the two separate crowds that attended the doubleheader.
"It felt good to get back out there," said Utley, who downplayed the severity of the concussion that forced him to miss the Phillies' seven-game road trip to Milwaukee and Houston. "I guess you could say I was a little foggy. It really wasn't that bad. They didn't want me to fly. I wanted to go to Milwaukee and Houston, but it just didn't work out that way."
The second baseman was greeted by a standing ovation when he went to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning of the victory in the opener and he followed the warm embrace with a single to center field.
Utley started the second game at second base and singled to right field in the last of his four at-bats, making him 2 for 5 in the doubleheader.
"I thought it went OK," Utley said. "Not seeing a live pitch for a week can throw you off a little bit, but overall it went OK."
Equally welcome was Ryan Howard's game-winning double in the bottom of the 10th inning which ended the first baseman's 0-for-15 slide and made the Phillies' long day worthwhile.
Still, the Phillies have gone seven games without scoring more than three runs and are batting .210 overall and .130 with runners in scoring position during that stretch.
"We just have to go out there and keep playing," Utley said. "We obviously have a great pitching staff and we have a good squad here. When all cylinders are firing, we can score a lot of runs. We have the next two weeks to try to improve on everything."
With 14 regular-season games remaining, Manuel will want to see more offense, and with Utley's return he will at least have a chance to start all eight regulars a few times in the next two weeks. Because of an assortment of injuries, that's something he has not been able to do since Aug. 7, nine days after general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acquired Hunter Pence from Houston.
Howard admitted he couldn't remember the last time the regulars played together.
The starting eight of Pence, Utley, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, and Carlos Ruiz have played together only seven times.
"We definitely got a good lineup," Manuel said. "It's just a matter of getting them all in there and getting them playing at the same time."
Manuel said he would not start the eight regulars Friday against St. Louis, but he hopes to play them all together at least six or seven times between now and the end of the season.
In fairness, it was not an easy night to hit a baseball Thursday because the wind was blowing straight in and only a line drive like the one that John Mayberry Jr. sent into the left-field seats in the sixth inning of the nightcap was going to leave the ballpark. Any ball too high in the air was going to get knocked down.
Still, any time the Phillies aren't hitting Manuel starts to get antsy, and the Phillies have definitely encountered another bump in the road.
The best news, of course, is that with this pitching staff they have still managed to go 4-3 in their last seven games, and there is probably not another team in baseball that could do that.
"The next few weeks, we'll just try to improve on everything," Utley said. "On offense, on defense, on pitching. It's probably hard to improve our pitching, but we'll see."
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org or @brookob on Twitter.