Fightin' Phils look pretty futile so far
PHILADELPHIA -- For now, call 'em the futile Phillies.
They've won five consecutive National League East titles, are favored once again, but if the current pattern continues, they can forget about No. 6.
The Marlins, considered a formidable opponent to dethrone the perennial champs, thrashed the Phils and left-hander Cole Hamels on Monday, 6-2, ruining the Citizens Bank Park home opener on a cold and windy afternoon.
The Phillies have just one victory in four games and are yet to resemble the juggernaut that led the Major Leagues with 102 wins last season.
To put it bluntly, the Phils are hurting. With All-Stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out indefinitely, their offense and defense have both become a major concern. As a team, they're batting just .198 and have scored only eight runs in four games. Philadelphia's one success was a 1-0 squeaker Thursday over Pittsburgh behind Roy Halladay.
Even with one of the best starting rotations in the Major Leagues and a premier closer in Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies won't be able to successfully defend their division title without an improved offense. There are just too many missing parts.
Granted, the season is just four games old, but during the last two weeks of Spring Training it became more and more obvious the Phils' patched-up offense is lacking.
Couple that with a vastly improved NL East and signs are there that 2012 could be the year Philadelphia's amazing domination ends.
As they take Tuesday off, the Phillies are 1-3 and two games under .500 for the first time since April 23, 2009.
Philadelphia managed only six hits off Miami starter Anibal Sanchez, and the club has just one homer and three doubles among its 26 hits in the first four games. On Monday, the Phils were retired in order five of the nine innings.
"We don't have much power right now," sighed skipper Charlie Manuel. "It was good to see Ryan Howard [working out] today, but I couldn't put him in the lineup."
Manuel seemed almost at a loss when he tried to list his players who have the power to consistently hit home runs. He named Hunter Pence, mentioned Ty Wigginton and the seldom-used Jim Thome.
"Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino can hit 15-20, but I would call them line-drive hitters," Manuel said. "We just don't have much power."
"It's like a snowball rolling downhill," said Victorino, who had one of the Philllies' six hits. "There are a lot of expectations for this team and we just have to focus. I'm not making excuses, but this is just four games. Let's talk after 162."
In the past, when key players such as Rollins, Howard and Utley were out with injuries, the Phils were able to compensate during their absences.
I do not believe the Phillies' current roster, as it's constituted, is as capable of compensating.
Consider John Mayberry Jr. is the best defensive player Manuel has for left field and first base. When he uses Mayberry at first base, left field is weakened and vice versa.
"I think we need to take advantage against them now, while they don't have all their guys," said Miami catcher John Buck. "We definitely feel like we need to pick up these series while not all of their guys are there."
If the new-look Marlins are to bring the 2012 division title to their futuristic new $643 million stadium, which opened last Wednesday, they must knock off Philadelphia, a team that won 10 of 14 games against them last season and outscored them, 74-42.
That's why there was so much significance to Monday's one-sided win. It sent a strong message.
"They're going to be good," said Manuel. "They can put an even stronger lineup on the field than they did today because [Giancarlo] Stanton was out. They're going to score a lot of runs. And they have talent enough to get better."
Hamels was impressed.
"They're definitely a lot more powerful, especially because they have the young guys who are coming into their prime," Hamels said. "They're no longer inexperienced. Most of their hitters have seen all of us [pitchers] 30 or 40 at-bats. They know what they're doing. It's going to be a lot tougher all year."
Hamels added these Marlins remind him of the 2007 Phillies, who were maturing into the team that won the 2008 World Series.
"That's where they are right now," he said. "They're pretty good."
Manuel has often said offense creates energy in baseball, but there's an obvious sense that energy has been drained from these Phillies.
"I think if that happens, it shouldn't be that way," Manuel said. "We just started the season and I do think we should be looking more aggressive. We've got to learn to be patient, but at the same time, be aggressive. We have to want to hit and love to hit. Hitting is something that really lets you have a lot of fun. When you're not getting hits, the game isn't too much fun."
The core group of players, who've triggered 205 consecutive regular-season sellouts at Citizens Bank Park, is aging. It's uncertain when Utley, with his chronic knee problems, and Howard, recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered when he made the last out in the 2011 NL Division Series, will return.
And even when they do, it's questionable how effective they'll be.
"Yeah, we do have two of our top hitters out," Manuel said. "The one guy [Utley] who hits in the third hole, he's our guy who works the count, and has a high on-base percentage. The other guy [Howard] is what I call our carrier. When you take those guys out of the lineup, it has an effect on us. At the same time, we've always been able to work through that. We've got to keep our heads above water and we have to hit better. The bottom line is we got to hit better."
"Things aren't going to be easy every year," said Hamels. "You're not going to have the team that hits the most home runs in the league or steals the most bases. Our job as pitchers is to go out and do our jobs, to pitch deep into games. That's something we've been able to do no matter what sort of scenario we have on the offensive side."
On Tuesday, Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen will be in Miami on the off-day to apologize for telling Time Magazine he loves Fidel Castro.
While he's there, the Phillies will be doing a lot of soul searching, trying to convince themselves their disappointing start is a mere aberration, because they've been spoiled by success.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.