Commentary

Phillies' offense has gone missing

Slumping bats lead to Game 3 loss, concerns grow as Giants take NLCS lead

Updated: October 20, 2010, 1:11 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the third inning of Game 3 of the NLCS here Tuesday afternoon, Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz stood on second base and said he had just one thought on his mind: Who's going to get the big hit?

After a strikeout and grounder to third, Ruiz had his answer: no one. Ninety minutes later, Ruiz again stood on second and again wondered which of his Phillies teammates would deliver the clutch knock to break his team's offensive slump. And again, he had his answer: None of them.

"Hopefully tomorrow [in Game 4] we can get that hit," Ruiz said.

The Phillies need more than hope. They need hits. Now. And so it was no surprise then that a mere minutes after Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants, the two-time defending National League champions were already hard at work searching for answers. Before they had even showered, Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth, who combined to go 0-for-11 with four strikeouts in Game 3, sat at laptop computers and watched video clips of their at-bats. Ryan Howard later joined them.

[+] EnlargeRaul Ibanez
AP Photo/Eric RisbergRaul Ibanez and the Phillies are getting frustrated -- by the Giants' pitching and with their own missed opportunities.

When asked what sort of things he saw when watching the clips, Utley said, "It's a secret."

Phillies fans can only hope it's a secret Utley and his teammates will figure out. Soon. Without it, the Phillies look mighty vulnerable in this best-of-seven series. And the talk of this team being a National League dynasty has quickly come to a screeching halt. Yes, the Phillies have three of the best starting pitchers in baseball. But if they can't hit -- especially in critical situations -- it doesn't matter. Going back to the second inning of Game 1 of the division series, the Phillies now are 5-for-41 with runners in scoring position.

"When you don't score no runs, you don't get no hits, it's hard to win the game," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "But I don't know what we're going to do about it. I can sit here and talk about it. I can go in [to the clubhouse] and talk to them about it. But when the game starts tomorrow is when we can do something about it."

After Tuesday's loss, a game in which three San Francisco pitchers held the Phillies to three hits -- all singles -- the players said the right things. They've been here before. They're too good not to come out of it. They just need to be more aggressive. All it takes is one big hit and everything will turn around. And that all may be true. But at the same time, other than tipping the cap to the Giants' pitching staff, few in the Phillies' clubhouse had an explanation as to why this is happening now and what could be done to correct it.

"I don't know what we're doing wrong, why we're not hitting," outfielder Shane Victorino said. "If I could put my finger on it I would have answered it a long time ago."

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins wondered if the unique depth perception for hitters at AT&T Park is part of the explanation for Philadelphia's problems, at least on Tuesday.

"It looks like the pitcher is a bit further back than normal and then all of the sudden that ball is up on you," Rollins said. "But look, that's why they call it home-field advantage.

"All it takes is one hit to blow the top off and change everything."

Standing in the way on Wednesday will be Madison Bumgarner, the rookie left-hander the Phillies have never faced and admitted after Tuesday's loss they know next to nothing about. The 2007 first-round draft pick allowed two runs and six hits in the division series against Atlanta. The Giants have won eight of his past 11 starts.

When asked who has the advantage in Game 4, the rookie the Phillies know so very little about or the team that features five players who have started 36 consecutive postseason games, Victorino channeled his inner Joe Namath.

"I'm going to go out there with confidence and say we're going to win," he said. "If I go out there with the attitude that we aren't going to win, I might as well not show up."

The Phillies will counter with Joe Blanton, who hasn't pitched since Oct. 3. Though he isn't one of Philadelphia's "big three," Blanton finished the season with 13 consecutive starts without a loss, going 6-0 with a 3.24 earned run average over that span.

But this will be the biggest game of the season for the Phillies, which left many to wonder whether Manuel considered using Roy Halladay on short rest instead of Blanton. After Tuesday's game, he said he didn't even have the conversation. Halladay told reporters he would have been ready to go if asked.

"I'll pitch when they want me to pitch," Halladay said. "That's it. That's the bottom line. The rest of it isn't up to me."

Regardless, the problem in this series hasn't been Philadelphia's pitching. It's the hitting. The team again finds itself in one of the dreaded offensive droughts that plagued it throughout the season. And now the Phillies have the task of trying to come out of it against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, in a park where they are now hitting .158 in four games this season.

Not that they are worried -- yet.

"Let's not sit here and analyze everything," Victorino said. "We don't have time. There's not enough time to analyze situations. We don't need to worry about why we're not hitting. We need to worry about when we're going to hit. And that's going to be tomorrow. We're going to go out there with reckless abandon."

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com.