By Todd Zolecki, MLB.com
The top of the fifth inning Wednesday seemed to encapsulate why the Phillies have the lowest-scoring team in baseball.
Freddy Galvis and Aaron Harang started the inning with a single and a walk, respectively, in the Phillies’ 5-2 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Ben Revere then bunted a ball in front of the plate and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina threw to third to get Galvis for the inning’s first out.
It is the fourth time this season the Phillies have bunted with runners on first and second and had the lead runner thrown out at third. It has happened three times with no outs and once with one out.
“Why do I like it?” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about the decision to bunt there. “First and second and no outs with a bunter up there.”
Sandberg pointed out that the Phillies have improved their bunting recently. They lead baseball with 12 sacrifice bunts. But giving away outs has proved costly at times for a team averaging 2.76 runs per game, the seventh-lowest average of any team in baseball since 1900 (if stretched over a full season).
In this case, the failed bunt put the slow-footed Harang on second base, potentially clogging the bases. Fortunately for the Phillies, Harang and Revere advanced a base because of a wild pitch from Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez.
Odubel Herrera followed with a single to right field to score Harang to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. But Revere took a wide turn at third and was slow to get back to the bag. Molina, who had the ball after a throw home from Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward, fired a ball to third.
Revere was out after a rundown.
“There needed to be some quick effort to get back to third base once he stopped,” Sandberg said.
So instead of runners at the corners and one out, the Phillies had a runner on second and two outs.
The Cardinals then intentionally walked Chase Utley. He enters the final game of the month Thursday hitting .114, which is tied for the lowest batting average in April (minimum 40 plate appearances) in franchise history.
Intentionally walking a .114 hitter made sense to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny because it matched Martinez with the right-handed hitting Jeff Francoeur, who struck out swinging to end the inning.
In search for a balanced lineup, Sandberg has been hitting Francoeur fourth recently. But Francoeur has hit .125 (5-for-40) with one double, five walks and nine strikeouts in that spot. He is hitting .286 (6-for-21) with two doubles, two home runs and four RBIs everywhere else he hits.
“We need to get better in the middle of the order,” Sandberg said. “That needs to pick up.”
Ryan Howard homered to right field in the fourth inning. He has homered four times in his last eight games.
Perhaps he finds himself back in the cleanup spot in the near future.
“Do I think it’s time?” Howard said. “That’s something you’ve got to ask the manager. I’m just trying to do the best I can wherever I am. … I feel I’m a four-hole guy. I’ve been there most of my career. But, again, that’s his call.”