By Harry Allison
Tim Tebow may be the flavor of the month on talk radio, but the Phillies have an entire season to play and they cannot hit.
Will they ever hit?
Or, are we expected to invest our time and money in watching old and broken down Ryan Howard (photo above) and Chase Utley all season with visions of 2008 dancing in our heads?
Here’s what Todd Zolecki of MLB.com thinks:
The offense should improve, but how much better it will get is an entirely different question. The Phillies are averaging 2.46 runs per game through 13 games, which would be the lowest single-season average in franchise history. The 1942 club averaged 2.61 runs per game, which makes it the only Phils team to finish a season averaging fewer than 3.22 runs per game.
No team in major league baseball has finished a season averaging fewer than 3.0 runs per game since the 1972 Rangers (2.99) and 1972 Angels (2.93). History seems to be on the Phillies’ side, unless this really is one of the worst offensive teams in generations. That said, any improvements probably will not be significant. Remember, the Phils said going into the season that they would not score a lot of runs. Their first 13 games only seem to confirm that. The best hope is that players like Odubel Herrera, Cody Asche and Freddy Galvis will continue to hit, while veterans like Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are able to hit closer to their career averages.
A lot of people get fired up about Howard. He certainly has struggled through 11 games, posting a .464 OPS in 43 plate appearances. But it has also been a struggle for Ruiz (.543 OPS in 37 plate appearances), Darin Ruf (.438 OPS in 32 plate appearances), Utley (.422 OPS in 48 plate appearances), Ben Revere (.395 OPS in 44 plate appearances) and Grady Sizemore (.341 OPS in 24 plate appearances). Nobody says much about them, though. Why? Well, Howard makes $125 million, his production has been on the decline the past few years and he had been hitting fourth until Thursday. But the fact of the matter is, there is no reason not to play Howard. Ruf is not hitting. Utley is not hitting, so it makes no sense to move him to first base (which is a constant suggestion from fans).
Maikel Franco is having a nice start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but he should not be promoted right now. First, if he remains in Triple-A until mid-May, the Phillies might push his free agency from 2020 to ’21. That could be huge for a rebuilding team. Second, there is no rush. Let Franco continue to develop and experience success in Triple-A, and when he is ready, he can be promoted. Remember: This is a rebuilding year. The Phils know they are not going to make the postseason. So don’t mess with the future for a potentially quick but short-term fix to the lineup. In the meantime, Howard should continue to play fairly regularly to see if he can get on track. If he does, great. If not, then the Phillies can feel more comfortable about any decisions they need to make in the future.
Keep an eye on the Phillies’ farm system and follow the progress of the organization’s Top 30 prospects at MLBPipeline.com. Several of those players are playing well early, which might offer a little comfort as the big league club struggles.