Monday, July 19, 2010

Stop trying so hard!

The thing that I've grown a greater appreciation for as I've delved deeper into my understanding of baseball is the infinite number of things that can result from a pitch to the plate. I suppose the same is true after a snap of the football, a tee shot or a serve in tennis, but those things don't flood me right to the core with anticipation like baseball...

How lovely - the Phillies hit three home runs tonight. It's just a pity all of them came when the game was already lost and with no one on base. Four of the team's six runs Sunday night came via the fly ball. None of them threatened the Cubs' lead, so the pressure was more or less off in each case. Therein lies the point of my posting, which I'm embarrassed to say was unearthed by one of the game's most despised color analysts, Joe Morgan.

Then again, it makes perfect sense. How else would a team full of sluggers try and rid itself of a slump? Swing for the fences to try and be a hero and get the offense going. This is not the right mindset to have in a slump, but everyone in the lineup (except Placido Polanco) has home run on the brain every time they step to the plate. That may be fine for Ryan Howard, who's in the zone right now, but Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez are in too much of a rut, while Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino (the subject of my next posting) need to worry more about working the count and getting on base.

On the other hand, I can understand how frustrating this long stretch has been. The Philadelphia offense is not known to hit for average, hit well with runners in scoring position or post a high on-base percentage (they're presently among the bottom half of NL teams in all three categories), but they always had the home run to fall back on. Though the Phillies are presently fourth among NL teams in home runs with 98, they're on pace to finish well below last year's league-leading total of 224.

Injuries to Chase Utley and Rollins are partially to blame, but you see the great number of swings and misses at pitches out of the zone, the wasted pitches pulled foul and the countless pop-ups in the infield, it's not hard to guess where the rest of those missing bombs went. The hitters have spent so much time trying to crush every pitch that they've forgotten to look for the right one.

Being down by eight runs can sometimes clear a player's mind. It's easier to focus on your at-bat when the singular act of hitting a home run or reaching base will not affect the outcome of the game. The Phillies got down, way down, and then the home runs followed. The runs arrived far too late and once again, did not help Roy Halladay.

This will be a tough pattern to break, and it's hard to believe it's been going on for two months. A four-game sweep of the Reds is oddly bookended by six losses in eight total games to the Cubs and Pirates. The Reds weren't exactly at their best when the Phils faced them, and the St. Louis Cardinals are entering their series with Philly revitalized from a three-game sweep of the Dodgers that put them back in first place. This is not a good sign for a team that isn't hitting. Maybe instead of swinging for the fence, just aim for patches of grass unoccupied by white uniforms...

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